L’occasion Passport: what it means to me to move around the world to taste wine and meet winemakers.
Contagious: The Travel Bug
One of my early wine tasting trips was to a little town in Northwestern Illinois called Galena. Galena is one of those delightful spots, with a historical downtown, a river view, lots of charm. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife lived there (their home is open for tours). Nearby there are excellent golf courses, sweet villages, a “territory” of luxury rental homes…enough to make this town a tourist attraction. There are also lovely restaurants and bachelorette-party-worthy nightlife.
And did I mention that there’s a winery? Galena Cellars operates an adorable, bustling tasting room right at the heart of the historic town center and winery tasting and tours a few miles out in Midwest farm country. Galena Cellars is run by the Lawlor Family. Their winemaker, Christine Lawlor-White has been honored as “Winemaker of the Year” by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association.
It was in Galena that I first fell in love with the idea of traveling to taste wine. The surroundings were consistently welcoming and Galena Cellars was a place where everyone seemed so happy, so carefree, so satisfied. It was in Galena that we bought the first wine for our then one-bottle collection, a bottle that is probably well-past it’s prime but set aside for my son’s 21st birthday. It was in Galena that I came to understand sense of place, not just by means of terroir, but by means of hospitality and cultivation. A weekend welcome is priceless in a an era when we schedule time to breathe during yoga class.
Catch Me If You Can
After a few years of wine-tasting trips in local places like Galena I’d certainly become aware that most of my dream trips were trending towards wine countries. So, there was Michigan. There was Napa. And Sonoma. Then Virginia. We drank wine in places like Ireland, Florida, Colorado, Maine, Boston. We’ve included wine, be it from direct from the winery or a solid wine list, everywhere we’ve boarding-passed or gas-pedaled to since those early days in Galena.
We’ve taken dream trips through Burgundy, visited historic cellars and drank Grand Cru wines. We’ve road-tripped the Rhône Valley, tasted the wines of popes and proved that indeed, Rhône reds might be the tastiest, most-perfect element on the periodic table of wines. We’ve trained through the Italian Riviera, drank wines so local the label was taped on. We’ve done Monaco, Monaco! A place that in my childhood felt as approachable as a movie set. We’ve ordered bottles from Parisian wine lists and traveled to NYC to drink Italian wines with food made by Italian chefs. We’ve done all of these things and more.
Do I have a favorite? I must admit that I do. Provence has been my spiritual home for years, and it’s there that I find the continuation of a story that I’m always ready to tell, a story that shadows me and gives me creative life. In Provence, I’ve met winemakers and chefs, hoteliers and shop keepers. I’ve noticed other visitors and local people going through their day (do they schedule time to breathe in Provence? Mais non). I’ve heard the birds and the bugs, I’ve felt the sun and the rain.
I think: travel, the simple act of moving oneself from one place to another place, has graced me with this blessing. As a writer I;m trying to blur the lines between the non-breathing and the breathing. To fill the lungs of readers with the air of another place. In many times, that place is Provence, but not always.
I think: reading and writing, the simple act of words registering messages in the brain, can grace us with this blessing. That travel is actually imagination on fire, senses loaded and hearts open. We need ourselves to travel, it’s not only about place.
I think: wine, the Earth-woven task of turning grapes to wine, can grace us with this blessing. A single sip contains the whole of a place and the energy of the maker. The sun, rain, soil and people all become ours with a single sip.
We seek these experiences. We know we need them to fuel the creative fire that suggests the world is a malleable, enjoyable, life-giving set of gorgeous impressions…impressions that we all leave behind and impressions that we take with us. My trips have made me who I am, this is certain. There is still a part of me that believes I’m not yet the full individual that I’m designed to be because there are so many more lands to visit. But there is also a side of me that knows I was whole, even before those early trips. I have to be whole, we all do, to take the journey.
And at last, another memory occurs to me. A childhood vacation with my parents. Wine tasting for the adults at a hill-town winery. A storm that keeps us on top of the hill so that we enjoy a prolonged dinner at a rustic restaurant though we had plans to go elsewhere. It’s interesting to me to settle on the idea that I was whole even then, a me waiting for the experiences of travel that waited for me.
I have a curated section on the blog, under the heading of L’occasion Passport. It seems that wine-tasting is often a here-to-there affair and that is certainly one of the reasons I love it. Enjoy some images of a well-traveled life and join me here for more.
This post in is entered into the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, managed by The Drunken Cyclist. The theme for this month: TRAVEL. #MWWC25