The worst day of my life was spent wine tasting


The life and near-death experience of a day spent among the vines

By Andrew Pridgen

It sounded like such a good idea. It’s someone’s odd-numbered-year birthday. There’ll be a limo-van thingy. Girls in unnecessary boots. Guys in unnecessary scarves. We’ll order lunch off a chalkboard that’s made in a truck. Day drinking! A group photo-op on the lawn while blurry bocce ball takes place in the background. Decomposed granite. Using adjective-friendly phrases like blanched peat and chalky pencil lead and hints of flint and cherry blossom.

Then, this happened:

9:05 a.m. Spirits are high! We’re going wine-tasting! Everyone is in their appropriate garb. Collars up and plaid L.L. Bean bermudas for the guys; girls in Forever 21 sundresses who look like they should be traipsing through a wheat field for a men’s magazine back when folks didn’t just go for the hard stuff on the iPad. Let’s board this fucking wine train and get rolling.

9:17 a.m. The limo-van reeks of last night’s bachelorette party. I immediately get that sweaty-palms-and-does-anyone-have-any-Airborne feeling. It smells like the fragrance counter at Target and the inside of a condom wrapper with a faint soupçon of semen and Altoids. I try to crack a window but like a Vegas hotel, there’s no such option. Even though it’s a temperate 66 outside, the limo-van driver, whose discharge it is I’m probably smelling/sitting in, turns the AC to 11 and instantly I feel like I’m trapped in a Tampa cineplex about to watch the final installment of the Paul Blart: Mall Cop trilogy. A VHS copy of Anchorman comes on the hospital TV hanging from the limo-van ceiling. This is probably the last movie many of us will ever see—and on mute. The girls start to shiver as their dress material, the thickness of napkins, provides little protection from the artificial arctic blast. I spy the limo-van driver’s creepy gaze in the rearview as the women huddle together over the red Igloo cooler like it’s a campfire—well played sir, but can you turn it down just a notch? I’m getting freezer burn. Instead, Journey comes on and someone hands me a Lime-A-Rita.

10:34 a.m. We’re in wine country. How do I know this? Because traffic has stopped and there’s a Field of Dreams final shot line of similar limo-vans signaling onto dirt roads. Dirt roads to wineries are key. It’s like most of them have enough in the coffers to erect 20,000-square-foot Uday Hussein Palace-inspired tasting rooms that make Cinderella’s Castle look like a Home Depot storage barn, yet the road from the main drag is first-cousin to the driveway of Jenn-aaay’s shanty in Forrest Gump. You can’t pave over quaint. Lime-A-Rita number three is being administered through a hole punched in the bottom and Def Leppard is cracking the PA. The limo-van running lights don’t work. Does anyone ever drink out of those glasses? I never knew so many people didn’t know the lyrics to Pour Some Sugar on Me.

11:19 a.m. Everyone out of the van. Three people kiss the dusty ground and two others wander off like they’ve got a piñata blindfold on, never to be heard from again (my guess is they’re decomposing amongst the vines—circle of life and all that). A half-dozen turkey vultures churn overhead so human casualties must be common out in wine country. I wonder if entrails taste better to those birds once they’ve been soaked in this swill. The members of the group who aren’t frostbitten/completely blacked out make a beeline for the fucking fountain. Picture time. Selfies and group-shots of the ever-thinning herd ensue. The limo-van driver is more than willing to take a few snaps and when he turns away to see if he “got a good one” takes about a half dozen of his cock. Certainly, it’s only a matter of minutes before he gets laid. Two guys are peeing on the other side of the fountain, one is doubled over like he’s going to puke in it or drink out of it, or both. A pair of women are singing the Friends theme and splashing around but their lips don’t move. They’re the MommyTasters (it says so in sparkly silk-screened gold across their breasts). Like a ‘96 Geo Metro for sale on Craigslist, nobody pays any attention to them.

11:41 a.m. First “taste” of the day. All the girls here are from the city and clinging to their boyfriends’ arms saying they want to move up here and do marketing for a winery and buy a cute house. As if someone acquiring someone else’s life is as easy as paying a bar tab. Our wine pourer intern looks eerily similar to the girl who brought us the Tablegating Sampler mistake from the kitchen at Buffalo Wild wings the previous evening. She seems attentive enough, though her counterparts look fractured—paid to the point where they can almost pretend to tolerate stupid questions and try to laugh on cue as they dump just enough fermented grape juice to make someone cough. I have no idea what to order, so she says we’ll start with whites because apparently either I bear a strong resemblance to my mother or she assumes I have some Xanax I need to pop. Good call. Um, the tasting description(s) begin. There’s a couple next to me who clearly met on OurTime and is trying to be serious and take notes. They should have come on a Wednesday. Everyone else is binge tasting and meandering about looking like a bunch of rugrats at daycare trying to figure out where the basket of blocks is hidden. I observe the tasting room tchotchkes and now I know where every city councilwoman and mother-in-law procures her hats, scarves and sequined belts since most of the Talbots have closed. Something very loud, like a coffin full of cement blocks dropped from three stories, rings out in the near distance. I drink three 1/16th glasses of white wine in under five seconds and the tasting girl motions to the far wall where there’s wine and some scary harlequin that I know for sure is evil for sale. I consider a guilt purchase (wine not the doll), till I find out one bottle is my entire Trader Joe’s budget for the month and not a rescue dog. I decide instead to go back to the limo-van and get another Lime-A-Rita or crack into the Fireball, because it’s almost noon. Then I think better of it because right about now the limo-van driver’s in the middle of a MommyTasters three-way.

12:38 p.m. A bunch of people who look like they’re in my group (though I can’t really tell anymore, the grounds are starting to resemble Jonestown if everyone at Jonestown wore H&M) head back toward the limo-van. The driver has fully released and re-dressed himself though there are a couple of telling streaks on his black rayon wedding child portrait photographer slacks and his white shirt is not tucked in in the back. His Arnette wrap-arounds are casually dangling from his shirt pocket and his forehead beads like someone just sprayed Turtle Wax on it. His frosted tips stand at attention in the breeze. I ask him if he’s a part-time wedding DJ and he looks at me and says, “How did you know?” Lucky guess.

1:15 p.m. We’re in the limo-van headed to the next destination which will be EXACTLY like the first winery except for two photo-op fountains and someone pressuring me to join the wine club. The last club I joined was Columbia House and I don’t want the alcohol equivalent of Achtung Baby and Boston: Greatest Hits arriving at my doorstep every month. I am bloated but watering the vines doesn’t help. I’m not sure whether Montell Jordan or Ginuwine went into the studio setting out to be a part of every wine tasting playlist decades later—but that’s the end result. I wonder what we’ll tell the parents of those we lost at the first winery. Is it OK to post the news of someone’s son or daughter perishing in a field next to some couple taking their engagement photos on Facebook and just tag the moms?

1:37 p.m. Wine tasting lunch is happening. SEAL Team 6 came and placed a platter of Safeway cold cuts, cheeses (looking expensive with the mold not cut off) and some Kirkland water bottles in anticipation of our group’s arrival. One of the girls pounds a bottle of water spilling most of it on her dress finally achieving that 1995 Playmate of the Year effect. I applaud politely as she disappears around a big, rusty tractor and is never seen again.

1:48 p.m. I’m not nearly full enough but I’m not nearly drunk enough either. I return to the threshold of the limo-van, opening the door and conducting a sniff test to make sure the coast is clear. It doesn’t smell like Fancy Feast or feet, so I bound in. I dig through some store-bought ice for the bottle of Fireball. I find it. It’s empty but for that one tiny bit at the bottom. Damn you MommyTasters! Instead, I take down a quartet of Bartles & Jaymes Body Shot Lime (<–actual flavor) wine coolers that someone brought “for a joke.” The inside of my mouth feels like it’s been caulked with kitty litter and my throat is itchy from the high-end cheese. I stumble out of the van. I hear talk of how fucking good sushi is going to be later. Some guy I don’t know with great fucking teeth comes and gives me a fist bump. I fist bump him back so hard his entire glass of Malbec stains his J.Crew chambray shirt like a Pollock. Enraged, he starts asking me assertively if I know how much the shirt cost ($28 with free shipping?) and I just shrug and go, “fist bump.” He considers this for a moment, apologizes and gives me a bro hug so hard his knock-off Wayfarers go crooked.

2:12 p.m. This “accidental” fist-bumping-too-hard thing could go viral. I now make it my mission to fist-bump every dude in the tasting room into oblivion. Wine is spilling like bridesmaid’s tears and after a quick double-take, to a person each bro is OK with it. One even offers to buy me my tasting because he needs to buy another one anyway. I don’t know what that means. The tasting happens and this is where the fun pulls over as if it sees lights flashing in the rearview. We have a dude pourer guy who I’m pretty sure just banged one of the MommyTasters in the bathroom that nobody can seem to find the key to. Pourer guy asks me what I taste and I say, “dorm sock, sunburned forearm, empty pizza box and an old guy with shingles’ golf shirt.” He is paying zero attentions to me as bachelorette party no. 3 ambles in like it’s an old west saloon. I steal his open bottle of Petite Sirah and bolt for the back fountain. Assholes run around seeing the world through their phones and tripping over sundry dormant harvesting equipment. The scene helps me understand a little better how this whole ISIS movement is gaining traction.

3:27 p.m. We were supposed to make five stops, but the limo-van is now headed to Machu Picchu, I believe. The roads are windy and the mountain goats are looking at us like they haven’t seen a white stretch H2 in these parts in quite some time. “Don’t worry,” some girl who I know didn’t start out with our group assures me, “this place is out of the way, but it’s the best.” The girls’ teeth are stained purple with lipgloss borders. Her breath builds a seven-foot bridge between her maw and my nose. For some reason, she reminds me of what a re-animated Joan Rivers might look like.

4:19 p.m. We arrive at the Trappist Buddhist monastery just in time to see Liam Neeson and Christian Bale packing their mules for their long journey back to the civilization. There are only three of us left now. The strange but strangely upbeat girl, the limo-van driver and me. We are out of fruit-flavored Anheuser-Busch products. Nobody bothered to bring along the moldy cheese tray which would come in handy now not only for sustenance but as a shield. The winds have blown the driveway dust into a tornado. I see visions in the sand. It is my great grandfather when I was five, showing me how to make a tiny two-wheeled car toy from a pair of thimbles, a paperclip and a rubber band. I sink to the ground and dig my fingers into the soft dirt. I feel sleepy. Just relax. Sink into the red clay. It will be over soon.

4:28 p.m. I am shaken awake. I blink to find I’m back at the edge of the fountain of the first winery. The whole group is there. There’s a fucking kite. There’s a cornhole game in progress. Someone’s Insta isn’t loading. I used to wonder what happened to all Abercrombie models from the ‘90s but now I know, they’re hiding out in this winery, vaguely working—looking removed but kind of like they could snap at any moment like a Disneyland employee. A gas station straw cowboy hat blows by like a tumbleweed. The enhanced breasts and rhinestone riveted jean back pockets of one of the MommyTasters gallops by after it. I am still. My head is pounding. I sit up with caution. Is this the afterlife or is this the part right before the afterlife? I don’t know. Someone hands me a stemless glass. It’s a girl. She kisses me on the cheek in a familiar way. “We should get some of these for home,” she says. “They hold so much.”

I look at her. “It’s you?” I say.

She scampers away. Dust kicked up by boots obscure her silhouette.