How 9/11 Changed My Wine-Drinking Philosophy

9-11-2011aThirteen years can pass in the blink of an eye — something we’re reminded of each holiday season, each birthday and now on this 13th 9/11 since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Virtually every American was touched in one way or another by that horrible day, including America’s wine family. Among them was Eric Munson, who lost two brothers-in-law (the brothers of his wife) on that fateful day, as described in this blog from 2007.

As was the case with the Kennedy assassination 38 years earlier, most people will never forget where they were when New York’s “twin towers” came crashing down that morning.

Two of my good friends, Donald and Nancy Dudzinski, happened to be on vacation in California’s North Coast wine country. They recall stopping by a winery in Sonoma County that morning and being somewhat surprised to find the tasting room open.

“What can we do?” the staffer told them. “On a day like this, drinking wine is probably a good thing.”

Paranoia was rampant in most of America’s big cities. Officials took immediate steps to protect their tallest buildings, fearing that additional airplanes could be coming their way. But in California wine country, calm intermingled with the sadness of the day. It seemed unlikely that terrorists would spend their resources on destroying lightly populated winery buildings when so many more lives could be ended by targeting skyscrapers.

And so, my friends went on with their day, taking a few bottles and a picnic lunch to Lake Sonoma, where they sipped and snacked in near silence, made eerily so by the events of that morning.

A few days later, with America’s airplanes grounded, they kept their rental car and drove it home to Chicago.

That’s where I was living at the time, and I’ll never forget how the downtown area cleared out within a couple hours as the magnitude of the attacks became apparent on television. Commuter trains went off their light mid-morning schedules, instead adopting a “load-and-go” policy. By lunchtime, downtown Chicago was a ghost town.

I worked in a high-rise, and remember going outside and trying to figure out what it would take for an airplane to strike that building. I concluded that it would take some pretty sophisticated maneuvering, so I decided to stay put. I believed I was safer there than in my high-rise apartment building, which was just three blocks from the famous Sears Tower — a much more likely target.

Finally, around 3 o’clock, I decided to walk home. I made the three-quarter-mile trek in record time, as there were few fellow pedestrians to maneuver around and only a handful of cars (mostly taxis) on the street. That meant I could ignore the “Do Not Walk” signs and go non-stop.

A two-block perimeter had been set up around the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower), which meant I had to take a slight detour. Police officers stared at me as I strolled alongside the red cones and other more secure barriers they’d set up.

Once I was home, I did what virtually every other American did that day: I turned on the television set, soaking in the sights and sounds provided by CNN and other news outlets, and tried to understand what had happened.

But this was one of those occasions when understanding was unattainable. I recall opening a bottle of wine to help anesthetize my psyche.

It was red wine, but I couldn’t tell you the variety or the brand. I do know that it was one of the best bottles on my rack, and I recall reaching for it because, as I continued to watch the horrific images on TV, I came to understand that no tomorrows are guaranteed.

9/11 impacted everyone differently. Some decided to bury the hatchet with estranged family members, something that (fortunately) did not apply to me. Others updated their “bucket lists” and began contemplating where they wanted to go once the airplanes returned to the skies.

For me, that was the day I stopped aging wines and began drinking them. It’s a philosophy I still embrace today, 13 years later.

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