A Salute (and a Toast) to America’s Veterans

A display of American flags with a sky backgroundIf you are a veteran who isn’t necessarily watching his/her diet all that closely, you have absolutely no reason to reach for your wallet today.

On this Veterans Day 2015, you can begin your day with a free Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s. The offer is good from 5 a.m. until 12 noon.

For a midday pick-me-up, you can then swing by Starbucks and pick up a free tall coffee for you and your spouse.

Then for dinner, Red Robin is offering veterans a free Tavern Double Burger, accompanied by the restaurant’s signature Bottomless Steak Fries.

And those are just the offers that found their way into my email box over the past few days. I’m sure other chain restaurants are offering other deals to our nation’s veterans today. That’s a good thing.

I have informed my new father-in-law about these offers, but I doubt he’ll take advantage of any of them. Like so many vets — he was deployed to and wounded in Vietnam — he viewed serving his country as his duty. He did not do it for a free education or future retirement benefits or access to America’s V.A. hospitals or even a free cup of joe. He served in the Marine Corps because it was the right thing to do.

We’ve had a few conversations about those days, and it has been a real education for me. There’s so much that happened over there that is not taught in schools, nor mentioned by politicians. Had Americans known more about what was happening, perhaps our troops would have been welcomed back home in more appropriate ways, rather than “greeted” by unappreciative protesters.

None of that is meant in a political way, incidentally. I’m simply talking about how the troops were treated upon their return, and my feeling is that anyone who did anything but show them the utmost respect should be ashamed.

I’ve talked to other Vietnam-era vets, and they tell me that on the rare occasions they had an opportunity to enjoy an adult beverage, beer was the drink of choice. Of course, hard liquor was a good way to deal with, if not forget, a day of being targeted by sharpshooters and trying to avoid being blown up by landmines.

Not one of them, including my father-in-law, has mentioned wine. I found that at least a little bit surprising, because I knew that French colonists had planted grapevines in Vietnam in the late 1800s.

But back then, even experienced vintners like the French were not fully educated about the impact that climate has on grape growing. They certainly were familiar with the concept of terroir, which suggests that every wine is a product of the place where its grapes were grown. However, they did not yet have a handle on why certain varieties fared better in some places than in others, which explains why their early plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay failed miserably in Vietnam’s tropical climate.

As recently as 20 years ago, those same varieties were planted again, this time in land that had been littered with landmines from the Vietnam era. But the climate had not changed. Only now are growers and winemakers finally embracing more suitable varieties for the climate, such as Cardinal and Chambourcin. There also is ongoing experimentation with sparkling wine production.

WineSignStill, at this point in Vietnam’s “wine history,” the fruit wines — those made from fruit other than grapes — are the quality leaders. But they’re seldom seen in the United States, other than at some Vietnamese restaurants, and they’re not nearly as compatible with that country’s cuisine as beer.

So, on this Veterans Day, we will not be uncorking a bottle of Vietnamese wine to share with my father-in-law. But we probably will open a bottle of good ol’ American wine, since the sign shown here is hanging on a wall inside his house.

Sounds like a slogan that the anti-war protesters of the 1960s would have embraced. Ironic, isn’t it? Yet it also demonstrates how wine can bring people together, and perhaps even heal old wounds.

To all of America’s veterans, from all of us at Vinesse, cheers! And thank you for your service.

P.S.: At our wedding on October 24, my new bride (Michelle) and I asked, in lieu of gifts, for donations to the Bowlers to Veterans Link, also known simply as BVL. It’s an organization that provides funding for programs that make the lives of hospitalized veterans — like Michelle’s Dad was for six months — better. To learn more about BVL, click here.

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