The animating force


I met my friend, Mary, for dinner the other night and she gave me a bottle of wine to mark the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris. The Judgment of Paris? I’m thinking World War II but the math isn’t quite right and so I ask.

I should note here that Mary’s “a wine person,” a connoisseur who sold fine wines to upscale restaurants in Chicago for years. Mary explains that she’s not so much into wine for the science or the stats. She’s into it for the stories, like the one about the Judgment of Paris.

In 1976, Mary tells me, a British fella living in Paris was hoping to drum up business for his flagging wine shop and came up with the idea of hosting a wine-tasting competition between the best wines of France and the mostly-unknown wines of California. He knew, of course, what the outcome would be, as did the townsfolk, so much so that aside from two young men who wandered in off the street and a reporter from Time magazine who grumbled about the assignment, the joint was empty. The competition went on in any event with nine revered French sommeliers and restauranteurs serving as judges. The results?  The California wines, both red and white, triumphed over the French.

To hear Mary tell it, I would’ve sworn she was there. And this is my point. Her eyes lit as she described the animating force that began with one man’s idea to have a contest, rocking the wine-making world not only in France but around the globe as vintners from Oregon to Australia now saw the possibility that they, too, could have a chair at the table. Captivated by the story when she’d first heard it, Mary says she picked up the book, a first-person account penned by that grumbling Time magazine reporter who’d gotten the scoop of his life, to learn more. In that book, she came across the names of the two young men who wandered in off the street to watch. One of the names was identical to the name of one of her Chicago restauranteurs. Could it be? She called the restaurant and asked him directly. Yes, he said, it’s me.

Which in turn prompted my friend to invite him to come and speak to her wine club, which he graciously accepted. She said the evening was sheer delight, history brought to life.

The animating force that prompted a British wine shop owner to have a contest. That prompted a couple of young passersby to stop in. That prompted a grumbling reporter to stay. That prompted vintners around the world to ask, “Why not?” That prompted the writing of the book. That prompted the invitation to speak.

That prompted my friend to tell me this story, and me to tell you. And speaking of you, what’s your animating force? And how do you honor it?