Get married on Friday the 13th, and you’re tempting fate.
That was our intention.
We woke up that morning in Lone Pine and drove to Kelso Dunes in the Mojave (not quite a three-hour drive from the valley), stopping to hike the Alabama Hills, once a setting for cowboy films starring John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart.
By the time we reached the Mojave, a storm was brewing. Whirling dervishes of sand. Blustery chill in the February air. I couldn’t shake a nagging fear that we’d disappear in the gritty desert—and that it would then snow.
We toughed it out. We’d chosen the doomed date and the desolate location as a metaphor for our decision to marry—or, rather, to renew our vows, to begin a lofty marriage do-over, against the odds, fate be damned.
We didn’t want to do this on Valentine’s Day. Too trendy. We’d made The Plan well before we pulled into the Kelso Dunes parking lot. Under a bleak sky.
As we parked, we stated the obvious, intoning facts as questions.
We could do this tomorrow?
Yeah … we could?
At the last minute, neither of us would be unfaithful to The Plan. We tromped out of the car and faced the trail. Hiked up about a mile. Recited brand-new vows through tears and chattering teeth. We exchanged chocolate peanut butter hearts, declared a thumb war and flew back to our car. For our wedding night, we’d booked a honeymoon suite at a discount hotel in Barstow. With a spa in our room.
A spa that leaked.
We’d brought candles, bubbles, a bottle of Tobin James Ballistic (2007) and the movie Sideways in DVD. It was about the third or fourth time we’d seen the movie. We’re endlessly entertained by the misadventures of wine-tasting Miles and his gauche womanizing friend, Jack.
The movie came out in 2004, which was a bad year for our marriage. George W. Bush’s re-election coincided with frequent urges to get divorced, a theme that recurred during the 2006 midterm elections, and again in 2008. We’d jammed through three marriage counselors during those years, the last of whom told us we’d never make it.
Our differences were deeply political and religious. We’d grown apart. We had nothing in common. We didn’t both like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
We kept trying, on and off. When our kids were teens, we left town for long weekends, camping and hiking. After spending one such weekend in Lee Vining, putzing around MonoLake and Yosemite, we decided to drive up to Amador County—just to taste winey deliciousness for ourselves.
“Is it possible that wine saved our marriage?”
That’s what I asked my husband, my Significant Libertarian, on our re-wedding night in Barstow. It was Feb. 13, 2009. We had a stack of divorce papers neatly filed away, unsigned, at home. And we’d just recommitted ourselves to another lifetime together. The water had been seeping out of the tub, so we were reclining comfortably in a couple of inches of lukewarm water. We raised our glasses to wine. Ting.
We made it through half the movie. Maybe less.
Which perhaps inspired our decision, the next morning, to spend Valentine’s Day tasting wine in Sideways country. It was tricky getting a room, but we nabbed an opening at a discount motel in downtown Santa Maria, off Main Street. The motel’s apparently closed now (thank you, Google maps), and I can’t figure out why: The guests were marvelously friendly. As the Significant Libertarian unloaded the car, a dozen or so women stood in the doorways of their rooms posing in various costumes not entirely unlike women my SL had
encountered seen in Amsterdam’s red-light district.
We checked in and headed out, down the road to our first wine stop, Kenneth Volk Vineyard (5230 Tepusquet Road, Santa Maria). It wasn’t the first stop made by the beloved tragic buddies in the movie (that was Sanford Winery, west of Solvang) but it worked for me. We were early—the first customers, really—so we had the pourmaster’s complete and undivided attention. Another couple later arrived on their Valentine’s Day date. We swapped cameras and took photos for each other. They were on their first date. We told them we were on our first date. We bought a bottle of the best chardonnay we’ve ever tasted. Ever.
As is our habit, we bypassed larger wineries for smaller ones. We drank at Rancho Sisquoc (6600 Foxen Canyon Road), Tres Hermanas (9660 Foxen Canyon Road) and Foxen (7200 Foxen Canyon Road). It’s possible that we tasted at other places, but I can’t remember last weekend, let alone four years ago. The tastings at the wineries I listed above all included keepsake wine glasses. I drank out of the above logo’d glasses for years. (The Foxen glass was my favorite, a Riedel with a subtle foxtail logo. I eventually broke it. Sadness.)
What we remember best is the proliferation of Los Angelenos and pinot noirs—the latter made famous by the movie. “Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression,” Miles tells Maya, the girl he’s hot for in the movie. “Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”
The SL and I were in more of a bratty Jack mood. Our last stop was a crowded winery, not on the above list, over-priced, slightly pretentious. We began, in low tones, to pronounce the pinot noirs as “a bit young” and “lacking character,” and, my favorite, “Kool-aidy.”
Say Kool-Aid in a snooty voice next time you’re out tasting. I dare you.
I probably began saying “pee-noht” at some point. Which would be an accurate Spanish pronunciation. Which I possibly explained to anyone who’d listen, treating these lucky folks to stories about the semester I taught travel-writing in Chile. The most adorable thing about my Significant Libertarian is that he not only tolerates all of this; he seems to enjoy it.
We realized our tasting trip was about done when one of us asked the pourers if they had any fuckin’ merlot. We considered this original. We thought we were being hilarious.
What we were really being was together.
Deidre Pike is an assistant professor of journalism. She lived in Hawaii for a year but moved back to the Mainland to be closer to the grapes. She and her husband celebrated their 30th/4th anniversary this year. This column appears every other week.