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Last updateSun, 30 Aug 2015 2pm

Sniff the Cap

If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

—Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof 

Text from a friend on Jan. 8: “Just finished post-workout shower. Off to buy Powerball ticket. It’s $800 million. Normally I don’t do lottos but … heck … $800 million. You in? Shall I get one for the two of us?”

Me: “You bet.”

Friend: “Our Powerball A—9, 12, 34, 41, 60 and a Power 11. I feel like such a sucker. But we might as well enjoy the fantasy until tomorrow. How will you spend your half of $800 million?”

Me: “Wine.”

I like to say stuff like, “Life is too short to drink average wine.” But my finances dictate that sometimes I have to drink average wine—so delectable California reds are the first things that come to mind if, if, if I were to win a giant sum of money.

If I were a rich woman—to re-gender Tevye’s song, “ya ha deedle deedle” and all that—I could try some of those bottles I’ve read about: French Bordeaux that sells for thousands and, oh yes, the elite Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends from the Rhone region of France. I feel like I’d prefer the latter, which are basically Old World versions of the grenache-syrah-mourvedre blends I enjoy from Paso Robles.

I don’t know. I’d like to find out. Hypothetical money is the root of much speculation.

We didn’t win that jackpot—go figure. The odds were in 292 million, and it wasn’t us. As you probably know, it wasn’t anybody—so the money rolled over for the next Powerball drawing.

As the jackpot rose to $1.3 billion, the news media went into promotional overdrive. I was staying with my family in southern Wisconsin, and the Madison TV station my parents watch did Powerball stories for three days straight. Predictable bits: How much will the taxes be? What’s your winning fantasy? Tweet it to the station.

And, oh yeah, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hints at running for a third term. You betcha.

The station shared people’s more-charitable spending plans. If they won $1.3 billion, a few viewers claimed to want to end homelessness and feed poor families.

The Wall Street Journal created an interactive graphic that visually depicted the odds of winning: one tiny pixel at the end of many, many scrolling pages of tiny, tiny specks. I watched this while sipping a nondescript Australian malbec, on sale for $8.99 per bottle at a small grocery store in Baraboo, Wis. The next day, at the same grocery store, I bought a Powerball ticket—my first, if you don’t count the one shared with above friend. I texted the numbers for this shared ticket to my friend. The fantasy continued.

I was not the only person to equate lottery winnings to expensive wine acquisition, turns out. The editors of Wine Spectator chimed in with their fondest wine wishes, all of which seem to involve wine from France.

Me? I would build a marvelous climate-controlled wine cellar and enhance my modest collection with some remarkable bottles. But why stop there? With this much money, why not buy a winery in the heart of beautiful Sonoma County? Or on the “deep end” of Anderson Valley, land of complex and lovely pinot noirs? I would walk the green fields, helping to prune the vines, enjoying morning barrel tastings and hosting blending parties with my friends. My sprawling Xanadu would have many guest rooms, a huge kitchen, fireplaces, custom tile and an eclectic art collection featuring the works of artists from the center of my universe—you know, California and Nevada.

In fact, to heck with those schmancy French wines. Let the editors of Wine Spectator compete for Euro-wine-hipster cred. I love the wines of here. I will stock the cellar of my Mendo mansion with this state’s finest: Lodi zinfandels. Barberas from the Sierra foothills. Paso Robles GSMs and cabernet sauvignon from the vineyards near St. Helena.

As it turns out, I already possess many of yummy bottles of the above. Go figure. Actually … pruning grapes? Hanging out with wine geniuses? Blending parties? House guests? None of that is out of reach now, to be honest. Life is pretty good, even if the Australian malbec is meh.

By the way, it’s not true that most lottery winners go broke within a few years of winning large jackpots. Only a couple of lottery winners have gone belly up or worse. That West Virginia man who won the $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002 made a mess of his life and was quoted, years later, saying that he wished he’d have torn up the winning ticket.

Money can’t buy happiness. But financial security certainly contributes to life satisfaction. If you’re already fairly reasonable when it comes to financial planning, winning a lottery could improve your life in many ways.

I like to tell myself that—if I win, I would be smart about spending.

My first monied moves would not likely involve wine, other than indulging in a celebratory bottle of one of my keeper cabernet sauvignons, like Markham Vineyards 2010 The Altruist, a remarkable birthday gift. By the time Jan. 13 rolled around, the jackpot was $1.5 billion. I hypothesized that I would take the lump sum payout if I won. After taxes, that’s about $600 million-ish. I would invest in varied ways, spending earnings, not touching the principal. That should be plenty to pay off my doctorate-seeking daughter’s student loan. And buy a food truck for my entrepreneurial offspring and a car that runs for my daughter-in-law. Everyone would go to the dentist. I’d get my septic tank replaced and build a treehouse.

The drawing happened. I didn’t even nab a $4 award on any of the five tickets I bought—which, since I added the Power Play option, added up to $15. That’s almost enough for a bottle of 2012 Cinsault from Temecula Valley’s Leoness Cellars, at wine-club prices.

If I were a rich woman, I would join many wine clubs. “Bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.” But, really, I don’t need no stinking Powerball jackpot.

My odds are better with single-deck blackjack.

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