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The Day the Wine Rack Collapsed

 article about The Day the Wine Rack Collapsed

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It all began when I decided to make root beer at home. It seemed easy and harmless, although no one in the family actually liked the stuff, and we never bought root beer at the market. Nevertheless, I collected used soda bottles, got a bottle capping machine, and bought everything needed to make a tasty brew: root beer extract, yeast, sugar, and such. I sterilized the bottles, mixed the ingredients, filled the bottles, capped them, and set them to rest in the cool basement of our house.

Time passed but the creative “I can do this myself” urge did not.
After a few days we were all drinking an excellent product and I was feeling confident. Unfortunately, the yeast kept on working on the sugar. Over the next few days we were startled by small explosions in the basement. Caps went flying while some bottles simply burst. Defeated, we fell back to powder drinks, lemonade, and iced tea while I did a major clean up in the basement.

Time passed but the creative "I can do this myself" urge did not. Since we were not rich, buying a bottle of wine was a big event. I loved a good German white wine, and on special occasions we had a bottle of French red which was always delicious.

I read books on wine making, I bought special yeasts, collected wine bottles around the neighborhood, got a corking machine—altogether a rather large investment of time and money. In late summer we drove miles up along Lake Erie to New York State where there were people who raised wine grapes and sold the juice to home vintners. These were wonderful trips full of fun and expectations for a great home-made brew. There is a certain easy-to-acquire snobbery about the whole business of wine.

We filled my five gallon glass bottles with wonderful grape juice, both white and red. At home I began the long process of fermentation, siphoning, bottling, and storing my dozens of bottles of pure hope. As the wine aged, I built a wine rack out of scrap metal. My rack supported the bottles front and back, but there were no partitions between bottles. If you removed one, the rest of the bottles on the rack began to roll sidewise. This was not a problem because I knew how to control the situation by placing an empty bottle in the space left by the one I removed.

Always impatient, I sampled the wine from time to time. It tasted horrible, but I thought it would be only a matter of time before it would ripen into marvelous wine. That day never dawned.

Always impatient, I sampled the wine from time to time. It tasted horrible,
One day we had a family shopping trip planned, and my son, then about ten years old, begged to be allowed to stay home. We agreed and laid down strict orders that he stay out of the basement and that he not invite any little friends in if they came by the house. Evidently, a little friend did visit, was invited in, and both went straight to the basement to play. My son showed off my collection of slumbering wine bottles. Inevitably the little playmate pulled a bottle from the rack for closer inspection. Bottle after bottle crashed to the cement floor in a growing pool of fragrant juice and glass. When I got home I personally finished the job by throwing the remaining few bottles on to the floor in frustration.

This episode left my son with traumatic memories to last a life time. It reminded me of a time when I was about the same age. My brother and I liked to make gun powder from three simple ingredients the local pharmacist was happy to sell to us, no questions asked. Kids at that time usually had a chemistry set to play with and that is what we told him we were doing.

Not satisfied with simple gun powder, brother and I decided to make some dynamite. This required drying our mixture in the oven. That is how the door to mother's oven came to be blown off. This raises the question of how such a creative kid managed to survive childhood and live to make exploding root beer and sour wine.

In spite of the aggressive advertising campaign that has cost American wine makers millions of dollars, I have never tasted an American wine of any variety that I liked. Native grown American grapes have a strong root evolved to resist local parasites and diseases. However, our native grapes make even a blue jay shudder, the taste being awful and the sugar content low. The quality of a wine begins with the root, and wine root stocks have become a very complex set of options. All sorts of grafts of wine type to different root stocks have been developed, but I still buy imported wines on those rare occasions when I want a good wine.

I know that the young people of American have learned to appreciate domestic wines grown in California, Washington State, Oregon, or New York. I know that wine makers continue to award each other gold and silver medals. I fear that all of this is delusional and that once one samples a great European wine one can never go back to domestic wine in the U.S.A.

I will be painted as a traitor to my country for saying such things, but perhaps there are readers who will take the challenge and defend those American wines that send a shudder down my spine.

And so, never discouraged by my history of failure, I took up beer making. This was labor intensive, but it did result in great brews that could be drunk in a matter of weeks rather than years. My own beer was far superior to what was sold in our markets. I could control the taste, color, and alcohol content at will.

Visitors to my home were treated to a great bottle of cool Taber Brew, and they loved the stuff. I had at last succeeded in something. Then, one day, we had a party attended by about fifteen people from work, a small celebration. They quickly drank up all of my finished beer and, as they demanded more, signs of intoxication began to appear in the crowd. I had produced an angry crown of semi-drunks. After that, I leaned to keep the alcohol content of my beer down to about 3.5 percent.

If soon became clear that drinking my own beer facilitated a weight gain that began after I quit smoking. Today my creativity extends no further than a morning cup of coffee although, at odd moments, I fancy making honey mead, the ancient drink of kings and noble knights.

(Julian I. Taber, Ph.D. is author of Addictions Anonymous: Outgrowing Addiction with a Universal, Secular Program of Self-Development. ISBN 978-1-60145-647-2. To view the Table of Contents, sample chapters, or to order, go to:

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