Every year my sister comes to visit between the last week of January and first week of February for my birthday. I plan our days around visits to wineries in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino. One year I took her to a wine sensory experience class in Calistoga where we had a blast guessing the scents and aromas found in wine.
Slowly, my sister became very interested in wine. And I became my sister’s personal sommelier. I’m not a wine expert, I am in a constant state of learning, but I have the advantage of living in a world-class wine region and the opportunity travel and taste wines around the world. Also, I have plenty of wine on hand to share and help my sister discover what suits her palate.
Last year when she was here she really enjoyed the wines I had from my friends in Texas, Merrill and Paul Bonarrigo at Messina Hof.
This Christmas, I sent her a box Messina Hof wine. She called me on Saturday, December 14th, all excited. “A big box came yesterday! It’s wine right?.”
--Yeah, it’s wine. It’s your Christmas gift, but open it now Mag, I said. Don’t wait.
--Okay, she said. I’ll call you tomorrow.
That Sunday we discussed the joys of Moscato and she texted me photos of the wine bottles.
“You are turning into me.” I texted back. “Next thing ya know, you’ll start a wine blog!”
Then she called me a few hours later and to say how much she liked the wines and was so glad I told her to open the gift early.
“This is the best Christmas present since the Matel Vac-U-Form we got when we were kids!” She said.
The Vac-U-Form was kit that allowed you to heat up sheets of plastic over a bazillion degree hot plate (completely exposed to the touch) and then flip the near molten plastic over on to a mold to make all sorts of things like little boats, and cars, and space capsules. God we loved that toy. Well, my brother and sister did, I was too young to use it. It was essentially a child size mold maker with a heat element that approached smelting pot temperatures. That was back in the day when kids toys could maim and kill and it was not considered to be grounds for a lawsuit.
We reminisced about Christmas past and how strange it felt to be the only surviving members of our family. We talked about her pending visit.
Then, less than 12 hours later, I got the 4am phone call everyone dreads. The call you know is bad before you even answer the phone. My sister was dead. It was sudden and unexpected. A blood clot to the heart.
There was nothing to be done. With no one else to call about the devastating news, it seemed as if it were not real. My first instinct was to call my sister and tell her “You are never going to believe this but apparently you are dead! WTF! How I’m I supposed to carry on?”
I felt like my entire family had left for the airport without me.
I sat in bed in shock and scrolled back through our texts and pictures from hours earlier. I went back through the entire year of texts and found it comical how almost every photo featured a bottle or a glass in the foreground, her happy face in the background. Many of her texts were of labels she came across in the wine shop –“Hey what about this? Would I like this?” she’d ask.
Over the past year we had texted about the thrill of a bright New Zealand Riesling, and the simple beauty of Umbrian Merlot.
Last February, a few days after she returned back home from her last visit here—she sent me a message – “I’m going to try and drink more this year!”-- Meaning she wanted to expand her experience with wine and try new things.
She loved to hear about the places I’d been to discover wine, and the people I’d met along the way. We were planning a trip to the Okanagan --she’d really loved the wines I shared with her from my travels there.
When Maggi died I lost my last anchor to my childhood memories and my best friend as an adult. I feel adrift.
She was my big sister, my protector, my champion.
I was her wine guide.
In the aftermath, wine has become a touchstone of sadness filled with bitter-sweet memories. The last conversation I had with my sister was about wine. I hope in time I’ll find my way back to the joy of wine. And when I do, I’ll raise a glass to my sister Maggi, in a toast to our love for each other, and of wine.