A Spittle Story

It resembled a fading Ash Wednesday smudge, except that it was on my cheek, and purple, like a bruise. The residue of wine and saliva had already dried to a flaky sheen before I noticed it in my rearview window. Dang. I thought I'd gotten it all back at the restaurant, when I mopped up my cheeks, chin, and nose with the back of my hand. Turns out that all I'd really done was smear it around. It was my scarlet letter: A. A for asshole. Almost 18 months ago, I met the owner of an upscale, highly regarded restaurant and wine shop. We'd been seated side by side at a not-for-profit event and geeked out over wine. Despite a number of back and forth e-mails, I moved to Healdsburg before I could schedule a tasting appointment. Last week I finally secured a formal initiation to pour my wines. I'd be pouring not only for the owner but also the beverage manager and two retail employees.

We five tasted around a big table, as I formally presented each wine. Since it was barely noon, and is professional form, we all spit into one central silver bucket. The beverage manager was a real pro. A master spitter, she'd lean slightly forward from her hips and nail a perfect arc of expectorated vino into the bucket. I dared not lean. Instead I lifted up the bucket and brought it near my face, lest I sully another taster with my erratic peripheral spray. I was nervous at first and spit limply. But I gained momentum with each bottle, growing confidence and an adrenaline rush.

By the time I poured the final wine, our 2010 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir, I was in full form. I took a healthy gulp of pinot, swooshed and gurgled long enough to look legit and spit vigorously. In fact, I spit so forcefully that the residual pool of expectorant and discarded wine bounced back and sprayed me in the face. Picture the sprouting water feature at the Bellagio hotel in Vegas, an intricate swath of spittle spray, fat droplets coating the bridge of my nose. I casually tried to wipe away the moist purple rainbow with my hand. There weren't any linens or paper towels at arms length.

"At least it's 20% your spit," offered up one taster, stifling laughter. His nostrils flared - a giveaway he was chortling on the inside.

"Happens to the best of us," commiserated the beverage manager in her tidy suit and coiffed hair.

I made some lame comment about spraying myself in the face with the hose during harvest. I laughed it off, but it was pretty mortifying and kind of deflating. Who knows if they'll ultimately buy my wine, but at least they'll remember me.

I'm always good for a laugh.