The Wine Festival

by Brian on August 9, 2007

in Just For Fun,Only in Israel

A year ago my wife Jody and I attended a wine festival at the Israel Museum. It was the same night as katyusha rockets started to rain down on Haifa as the Second Lebanon War kicked into high gear. The experience was surreal – here we were hopping from winery to winery, sniffing and sipping and sloshing our way through the latest Merlot and Cabernet blends, while a mere 2 hour drive away, our fellow citizens were cowering in bomb shelters.

This year we went back to the wine festival and the northern front was quiet. All those existential questions of whether we should or could be enjoying ourselves in the midst of the war were no longer relevant. The atmosphere was more like a festive garden party. So Jody and I celebrated by doing what we should have done last year, but couldn’t quite bring ourselves to: we got totally plastered.

We weren’t alone. As we staggered between booths offering tastes from the Tishbi, Binyamina, Yatir, Golan, Carmel and Teva wineries (the show attracts the best of both mainstream and boutique shops) I remarked to Jody that the staff who work here must really enjoy their job: all the customers are so happy. And that giddiness only increases as the evening wears on. By the end of the night, we would-be wine connoisseurs were as tipsy as a ladder missing a rung.

The wine festival had moved this year to the Billy Rose Art Garden, a large gravel strewn square dotted with oversized outdoor artwork. Entrance was NIS 50 ($8.50) with each person receiving a pretty wine glass which he or she totes from winery to winery refilling at will. This year our favorite was a Cabernet from the Kadesh-Barnea winery, along with a couple of Gewürztraminers which Jody particularly enjoyed.

Now, for Jody and me, getting drunk is definitely out of the norm. In high school, I was a freak (or a geek, choose your epithet) at least by teenage drinking standards: a near teetotaler in a mid-70s landscape when alcohol flowed like the oil that fueled the gas guzzlers that got us there. Maybe it was my form of rebellion not to party. That good clean lifestyle has served me well over the years but every once in awhile I suppose it’s OK to let your hair down (just don’t tell the kids).

About two hours into the revelry at the Israel Museum, with guests weaving in and out, brushing up against each other inappropriately and dancing to the live jazz that was playing on a central stage, it occurred to Jody and me that if we were going to drive home we needed to sober up. Not accustomed to being anything but sober, this was a new experience. How long would it take for our blood alcohol levels to settle down to a point where it was safe to take to the road, we wondered?

The wine festival had conveniently provided a “chill out” area full of white couches, white beanbag chairs and low white tables on white mats. We found a couple of open spots and collapsed, hoping that time and a little stargazing would temper the wobbly effects of the wine. Three men sitting near us started to flirt with Jody (this tends to happen even when she’s not drunk…)

“What’s up with your husband?” one asked as I lay somberly on my beanbag watching the clouds move past so that the stars appeared to be soaring like airplanes through the muggy night sky.

“You want a peanut?” another asked Jody, holding out a bag.

“No thanks,” Jody answered.

“They’re kosher,” the man assured Jody.

“What about him?” asked his friend. “Does he want some nuts?”

I managed a smile and a shrug without lifting my head.

Now you might think that a wine festival where most of the guests have to drive to get there might have set up a free coffee stand near the exit, but no, there was only more wine and a solitary booth selling sushi. Caffeinated sushi, now there’s a novel idea. Kind of like that Buzz Beer from TV’s The Drew Carey Show.

After about an hour of detoxifying, I finally felt competent enough to drive home. I resolved to drive very slowly and give everyone else the right of way. I would break for a pedestrian a mile off.

I’m happy to say we made it home safe and sound. Perhaps we should have grabbed a cab and picked up the car later. Or assigned one of us to be the designated driver (though what’s the fun of going to a wine festival if only one of you can drink?)

War could still break out – the news the next morning reported on the latest Syrian maneuvers on the border with the Golan Heights. But for one night, we let a little wine tasting work its magic over us. After all, in a country that’s constantly stressed out waiting for the next attack, what could be more “normal” than getting totally plastered every once in awhile.

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