Here's Mud in Your Eye


By Dave Barry, Miami Herald, August 22, 1997


	Recently I spent several days touring the California wine country, and I
	must say that it was a wonderful experience that I will remember until
	long after I get this mud out of my ears.

	I'll explain the mud in a moment, but first I should explain that the
	wine country is an area near San Francisco that is abundantly blessed
	with the crucial natural ingredient that you need to have a successful
	wine country:  tourists.  There are thousands and thousands of them,
	forming a dense continuous stream of rental cars creeping up and down
	the Napa Valley, where you apparently cannot be a legal resident unless
	you own a winery named after yourself.  Roughly every 45 feet you pass a
	sign that says something like "The Earl A. Frebblemunster And His Sons
	Earl Jr. And Bud, But Not Fred, Who Went Into The Insurance Business,
	Winery."

	When you see a winery that you like, you go inside for wine-related
	activities, which are mainly (1) tasting wine, and (2) trying to adopt
	thoughtful facial expressions so as to appear as though you have some
	clue as to what you are tasting.  Some wineries also give guided tours
	wherein they show you how wine is made.  The process starts with the
	grapes, which ripen on vines under the watchful eyes of the head wine
	person (or "poisson de la tete") until exactly the right moment, at
	which point they form a huge swarm and follow the queen to the new hive
	location.

	No, wait, I'm thinking of bees.  When the grapes are ripe, they're
	harvested and stomped on barefoot by skilled stompers until they (the
	grapes) form a pulpy mass (called the "fromage") which is then
	discarded.  Then the head wine person drives to the supermarket and buys
	some nice hygienic bunches of unstomped grapes, which are placed in
	containers with yeast -- a small but sexually active fungus -- and
	together they form wine.
	
	The wine is then bottled and transported to the Pretentious Phrase Room,
	where professional wine snots perform the most critical part of the
	whole operation:  thinking of ways to make fermented grape juice sound
	more complex than nuclear physics.  For example, at one winery I sampled
	a Pinot Noir (from the French words "pinot," meaning "type of," and
	"noir," meaning "wine") and they handed me a sheet of paper giving many
	facts about the wine, including something called the "Average Brix at
	Harvest"; the pH of the grapes; a detailed discussion of the
	fermentation (among other things, it was "malolactic"); the type of
	barrels used for aging ("100 percent French tight-grained oak from the
	Vosges and Allier forests"); the type of filtration (it was "a light
	egg-white fining"); and of course the actual nature of the wine itself,
	which is described -- and this is only part of the description -- as
	having "classical Burgundian aromas of earth, bark and mushrooms; dried
	leaves, cherries; subtle hints of spice and French oak"; and of course
	the flavor of "blackberry, allspice, cloves, vanilla with nuances of
	plums and toast."

	Yes!  Nuances of toast!  I bet they exchanged high fives in the
	Pretentious Phrase Room when they came up with that one!
	
	At another winery, I stood next to some young men -- they couldn't have
	been older than 22 -- who were tasting wine and making serious facial
	expressions and asking a winery employee questions such as:  "Was '93 a
	good year for the cabernets?"  I wanted to shake them and shout, "What's
	WRONG with you!?  When I was your age, I was drinking Sunshine Premium
	brand beer (motto: 'Made From Ingredients') at $2.39 a CASE!"
	
	Needless to say these young men also had cigars.  You have to worry
	about where this nation is headed.
	
	Anyway, the other major tourist thing to do in wine country is to go to
	a town called Calistoga and take a mud bath, which is an activity that I
	believe would be popular only in an area where people have been drinking
	wine.  My wife and I took one at a combination spa and motel, where we
	were met by a woman who said, I swear, "Hi, I'm Marcie, and I'll be your
	mud attendant."
	
	Marcie led us into a room containing two large tubs filled to the brim
	with what smelled like cow poop heated to 104 degrees.  We paid good
	money to be allowed to climb into these things and lie there sweating
	like professional wrestlers for 15 minutes.  Marcie -- who later
	admitted that she had done this only once herself -- said it was
	supposed to get rid of our bodily toxins, but my feeling is that from
	now on, if I have to choose between toxins and hot cow poop, I'm going
	with the toxins.
	
	But I have to say that once I got out of the mud, I felt a great deal
	better than when I was in the mud, and I am confident that one day, if I
	take enough showers, people will stop edging away from me on the
	elevator.  So let me just close by saying that, although I have made
	some fun of the wine-country experience here, I really do feel, in all
	sincerity, that "Pinot Noir and his Nuances of Toast" would be a good
	name for a band.
	

	





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