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My father repaired airplanes in the Philippines during World War II. Apparently, when not defending liberty, there wasn’t much to do. Years later he told his wife and kids that he spent a lot of his free time getting drunk with his buddies, Gilhoolie and Barselow.

Wine made by Mel's brother--as hard to find as it is to believe

I always found Dad’s story exotic and a little hard to believe because when I knew him he was not much of a drinker of alcoholic beverages, nor was my mother. We realized how little they drank when we found some old liquor bottles in a closet that were empty even though they had never been opened. Dad said these bottles were from his wedding to my mother and that the alcohol had evaporated right through the seals. I have since come to wonder if such a thing is even possible, but there the evidence was.

He drank in front of his children only once that I recall. I was ten or so years old when he brought home a can of Schlitz (The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous) and gave a splash to each kid. My mother had some too, though she was even less a drinker than my father.

Contemporary society might see my father’s actions as grounds for arrest, but my brothers and I agree that feeding us an ounce of beer at that tender age was one of the smartest things Dad ever did. Instead of making us into child drunks, his actions had exactly the opposite effect. Whatever mystery alcohol might have held was gone in an instant. We knew what it tasted like, and we thought it was dreadful.

Which is why it is all the stranger that my middle brother has taken up wine-making as a hobby. I don’t know whether the country around Portland, Oregon, is considered good wine country, but that is where he has planted the grapes that go into an operation he calls Ten Row Vineyards. (He wanted to call the operation Chateau Raff Distributing, after the wholesale ice cream company our father owned during most of our youth. But he could not get the other partners in the vineyard to agree.)

Every year Ten Row turns out a few cases of wine that the owners share with friends and family. Not long ago Brother sent me two bottles of his best, a red and a white. I haven’t tried the white wine yet, but I liked the red quite a bit — a simple little domestic, but I admired its presumption.

Still, drinking wine made by my brother does have its surreal quality. I started drinking wine only after I moved to Oakland in my early twenties and fell in with a bunch of Unitarians. I don’t know when Brother started drinking, but it was certainly after he left home.

I have gotten used to thinking of myself as a light drinker, but I don’t see Brother often enough to get used to his drinking habits. I do know that I continue to be surprised when I think about drinking wine he made. It probably would have surprised our parents too. Whether either one of them would have tried to product is anybody’s guess.

Mel

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