Our last tasting day was pleasantly chill. We started with coffee and pastries at the Walla Walla Bread Company. Then we stopped at Graze to grab picnic food and headed to our first winery in Lowden. L’Ecole No. 41 is one of the first wineries in the area. I had purchased a few bottles from them back in the fall and was due for a few more. The winery is in an old school house. The decor and woodwork in the building are amazing. We grabbed a table out on the deck (so glad the weather was infinitely nicer and drier), started our tasting, and had our lunch. We purchased a couple bottles before leaving to head to our last winery of the trip.
Our next stop was Reininger. I knew very little about the winery, but it had recently been reviewed quite favorably so we gave it a try. We were very impressed. We sampled six wines. I enjoyed them all, could have purchased five, but ended up with two bottles of delicious un-oaked chardonnay and a yummy red blend. Steve had more driving to do, so we also got a reasonably priced charcuterie board to help us soak up the grapes. I would revisit this winery in a heartbeat. Our server was a personable young Whitman College senior who happened to be from Colorado, very near to where we currently live. The whole experience was delightful.
It was time for our friends to make their trek back to Seattle, so we said our sad farewells, grateful for the opportunity to reconnect and have a relaxed, fun weekend away from home. We are going to have to do this again more often!
Wine tasting. It’s something many older (and younger), primarily white, people do for fun. It’s still a new thing for me, and I have not yet perfected the art of it. There clearly is a method to do it correctly. I have a friend who is 20+ years into this game, and he says it’s all about the pacing. Go to a couple tastings, get a substantial, late lunch, do a couple more tastings, then have a good dinner. We did one tasting this morning, then went straight to another tasting where we had tapas, which was a light lunch. By the time we got to the third tasting at 2:30, I had to stop because I was the designated driver for the afternoon. This was just as well as I am not a regular drinker and, as a smaller person, I am a cheap date. If I hadn’t sat out the third tasting, I might have needed help getting back to our car. After a couple hours sobering up while the wine and conversation flowed, I was good to drive the fifteen minutes back to Walla Walla.
I am going to need more practice at this. It’s a good thing I will have at least four more years of wine tasting in the Walla Walla valley now that our youngest has decided to attend Whitman College also. Maybe by the time he graduates, I will have honed my wine tasting skills. Hubby and I will be heading home with a case of wine, so I can start sharpening my skills straight away.
Here are some photos from our uncharacteristically snowy tasting day. Here’s hoping the vines and the fruit trees in the area survive this unexpected snow. I will need to taste and buy more wine from the area later in the year.
My final takeaways on wine tasting are 1) it’s a fun way to spend a weekend if you can afford it and have wonderful friends with whom to enjoy it and 2) it takes some practice. I’m still learning the lingo. I am learning what to look for as I sample the wine. I love the word terroir and, although I don’t have a textbook definition of it memorized quite yet, I can pronounce it correctly. It’s a whole new world for me, but it has been around for a long time. With some attention and practice, someday I might honestly understand a wine list.
Thank god I found this school for my sons in wine country. It’s going to be a win all the way around. I likely would not have been admitted to Whitman College, but I was smart enough to get my kids here and that has to count for something.
As a parent of a high school senior, the college search is often on my radar. After successfully launching Joe in person at his college of choice in January, I began to work with Luke on his search. To that end, back in March, I took Luke to get a feel for a Reed College in Portland, which at the time was his number one choice. Then, in June, we flew to the northeast because he wanted to visit Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After that, I decided he needed to see some schools in the middle of the country, a little closer to home, so we visited three colleges in Minnesota. The schools on Luke’s list have largely stayed the same, but the order he has them ranked in has evolved several times. It’s been kind of exciting to see his process at work.
This weekend Luke is in Walla Walla, Washington, visiting Joe at Whitman College. Today he toured the campus and sat in on an information session. Initially, Luke had no desire to attend his brother’s school of choice because he was intent on finally setting himself apart from Joe. The boys have attended the same schools together since Luke started kindergarten, so I didn’t blame him for wanting to step out of his older brother’s shadow. Still, I couldn’t help but selfishly want them to end up at the same place again. They would still be a thousand miles from home, but they would be there together, at least for part of the time until Joe graduated. They could share a car and have family there for emotional support. It made sense to me, but it was never my choice to make so I decided to let it go and let the chips fall where they may.
Luke told me recently that Whitman had moved into the top spot for him. I think after doing a cost/benefit analysis of his situation, he realized that he would have time to make his own way as an upperclassman after his brother had graduated and gone on. And, in the meantime, he would have a support system at school, someone who could give him advice on professors and activities and dorms. He could start down his own path, make his own friends, but not be taking such a huge leap on living across the country alone. Joe could be a safety net for him as he branched out for the first time as an adult. Luke, for all his ideas and occasionally stubborn views about his future, usually lands squarely on the wisest choice.
Nothing is definite until the five schools Luke will apply to make their decisions, but I am solidly behind his selections and don’t think he could go wrong with any of them. Would I like it if he ended up with his brother in small town Walla Walla with its charming downtown, 140 local wineries, beautiful scenery, and pleasant weather? No. I would love it. I fell in love with Walla Walla two years ago when I toured Whitman with Joe the first time. But I will have to pull back my enthusiasm until the dust settles. It’s hard to be a parent as your kids transition into adulthood. What was once settled and routine and in your control gets upended. It’s your turn to go along for the ride. I keep wondering where we will end up.
For now, I will just be grateful that the two are together again tonight. All is right in my world. And probably in theirs too.
Something occurred to me this morning. The purpose of this trek was to deliver Thing One to Washington to begin his first full year of college. Everything I’ve done the past twenty years led to these moments. And as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing Joe here and helping him get set up, one thing has finally sunk in. My work here is finished. Maybe not completely, as I’m sure soon enough he will be asking me to edit a paper or send him something he forgot. But I can’t pretend any longer that life as I have known it is the same. It’s not. I’ve spent the past twenty years laser focused on my children. Now it’s time to shift my focus. I imagine it’s like the day after the retirement party. You wake up and think to yourself, “Well, now what?”
Joe and I had tentative plans to have dinner together today, but I woke up this morning with not one other thing on my agenda. I sat in my hotel room and took a deep breath. What the hell do I want to do? Not what do I have to do, but what do I want to do? I haven’t had many occasions to ask myself that for a long time. I decided that rather than sit in bed and feel sad and lonely, I had best get showered, do something with myself, and get some coffee. Seeking something new but still in my heart needing something that felt like the life I have known, I decided to drive out to Target in Richland because Richland is new to me but Target is my normal.
At Target, I wandered aimlessly to kill time. I knew Joe needed hangers and a small fan and I needed some water, so I took care of those things. I would pick an item up, thinking Joe could use it in his dorm room, and then I would remember that it’s not my job to decorate his room anymore and move on. I quickly realized that, although on most days Target can cheer me up, today was not going to be that kind of day.
I decided I needed to regroup. I bought myself a green tea from Starbucks and sat in my car thinking about what else I could do. I began researching a winery I had driven by on my way out to Richland. Going to a wine tasting solo sounded awkward, but I needed to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m starting over. Everything is going to feel weird for a while until it doesn’t anymore. Be brave. Be bold. Go big or go home. I booked a 2:15 tasting and went to grab some food. I ate lunch at a picnic table near the Columbia River and enjoyed the shade before heading back towards Walla Walla.
I had driven past the L’Ecole No. 41 winery a few times on previous trips. I found my way up the stairs and into the main sales area and told them I had a reservation. I was seated on the back deck at a table with just one chair, which immediately made me feel at ease. Nothing can make you feel more obviously alone than being a single at a table meant for two. I made small talk with the server as he poured my wine. And then I was there alone, sipping delicious wine, enjoying the sunny day in eastern Washington, the wasps swirling around a tree and some children playing on an old seesaw on the grassy yard below. As each pour came and went, I started to relax a tiny bit more. I allowed myself to envision a life where I have fewer demands on my time and greater freedom to be conscious about how I choose to spend that time. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all?
I did eventually meet up with Joe to give him the last few items he needed, to see the finished dorm room, and to grab a bite to eat. We enjoyed Indian food from the same restaurant we ate takeout from when we arrived in Walla Walla in January. Joe told me about his past, solo 24 hours. He told me he nearly had trouble assembling the storage unit we bought for his room until he remembered his bike tool had a screwdriver he could use. He told me his new section mates seemed like a quiet group and he was glad. He thanked me for bringing the final items. I told him about my trip to Richland and the winery. I told him how an older gentleman (yes…older than me) asked if I needed help carrying my wine to my car. I complimented him on his dorm room. Before I knew it, we were discussing when to meet up in the morning for my departure.
I know this is going to be a process. I’m creating a new normal, but I can do it. It was a new normal when Joe came into the world weeks early and weighing only 5 pounds. I survived that and then doubled down and spent years doing a pretty good job at Mom. I bet if you give me a few years, I’ll be doing a pretty good job at Justine too.
Do I need help carrying my wine? Jesus, man. I raised two kickass sons and dropped one off at college yesterday. Can’t you see how goddamn strong I am? I’ll carry my own wine, thanks.