There are lots of swans here, which is why I call my writing retreat Swanchurch. Here are two trumpeters (blackbilled) and a mute swan (not as quiet as you’d think) just off my dock a couple springs ago.
Every spring, I hold my breath in anticipation of the signets. A banner crop of six in 2018 holds the record for most babies, also for most losses, which is a story about snapping turtles.
This year, Keats and Shelley (the pair–whichever pair–that claims my stretch of the river as theirs is called Keats and Shelley) had two signets two days ago.
Today, there’s only one. I’m not posting a picture of that.
There are swans here year round… they are photogenic in all seasons. I could post a hundred more pictures, but will leave you with this one from last autumn at Swanchurch.
The woods of my childhood were easy to reach beyond my backyard and across the long pasture to the west. There, at edge of civilization as I knew it, was a tall, thick stand of conifers with a perfect little smeuse the size of a six-year-old girl. Through it, I would step from the open field into a shady cosmos of birdsong… sunlight kaleidoscoping through the boughs… the sharp scent of jack pine oxygenating the air. It was enchanted in a way the grown-up world would rarely ever be… except on this night.
On this night, the taste of pine sap on my fingers brought it all back to me, except it wasn’t pine sap at all but a deep breath and sip of a Château Musar Rosé. From this “still and softly-oaked tribute to the ‘blended’ rosés of Champagne,” a liquefaction of memory poured forth. I was simultaneously a little fairy climbing a tree and an imperious professional woman attending her first-ever wine dinner.
Who knew wine could do that?
Well, Marc Hochar knew. It’s just another day at the office for Château Musar, which is not to diminish the wonder of such unexpected revelations. This just compels the Hochar winemakers to bless the wider world with the fruits of their labor. They have been making Château Musar wines for generations in the soil of the Garden of Eden, so it is understood: something divine is going on here.
Grapes and earth and weather over the imprimatur of time can create many lives in a bottle of Musar, and several more inside us, according to Hochar. That’s because “We preserve the life that’s embedded in these wines. We don’t filter them, or strain them, or take anything out,” he explained. “So they retain this ability to behave like living things… they change. If you open two bottles of the same vintage at the same time, you should not be surprised to find they are not the same.”
Coming from Lebanon, a land of extremes, such seeming contradictions are embedded in the DNA of a Château Musar. The Mediterranean climate of warm, dry summers and bitter cold winters in their Bekaa Valley vineyard inhabit every bottle. Such dimensionality was deliciously supported by a five-course “Taste of Lebanon” at Kalamazoo’s Rustica restaurant. At its by-invitation-only wine-dinner, six different Musar wines were featured. Each one was unique yet somehow recognizably Musar… familial in the roots of Rosé, Hochar Rouge, Blanc, Rouge… ancient and alive.
As we sipped, my friend and I would say the first thought the taste and aroma conjured: mown hay, carob, chanterelles, the marsh on a summer night, a cellar door. The ocean… sand that had been stirred up by whale fins. The acrid air from skeet shooting. Colostrum… manuka honey. An awareness of past lives… gravestone moss. The stories started telling themselves with our voices. This wasn’t about logical, credible comparisons, but letting the wine meander through our sensory lobes of experience. Here were memories that weren’t always our own… or were they? I thought of these lines in a poem by Jon Wallace:
What we say seems to make sense, yet
beyond the chatter don’t we go on forever, effortlessly
resisting the fixity of words? I tell you
we are precisely what cannot be spoken
or felt, and so remain secrets even to ourselves.
From this mysterious inner-expedition came my “sappy” review, which I was somewhat embarrassed to share with Marc Hochar when he stopped by our table. It didn’t seem dignified enough, or in the proper canon of wine vernacular. But to my great relief, Marc was delighted with my story. He found pine pitch entirely apropos because that’s what was real for me. And that was the point… maybe even the goal.
This remarkable event has raised the bar for every glass of wine I’ll ever drink again. You’re welcome, Hochars, and I am sorry, every other label.
It’s just that Château Musar invites an engagement in which wine isn’t just for enjoying, but for enhancing a delightful tour of self-discovery. The wet-dry, earth-sky, love-hate, hot-cold, blood-water, laughter-tears, primordial-modern Lebanon has imbued its country’s most famous wine with its own memories. To imbibe is to rehouse them… and explore the Muse of your own life when you let them live in you.