It’s the name of our red wine and more or less the title of this blog. Now I’m going to tell you how we arrived at Abeille.
As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t know anything about winemaking the year we decided to begin this adventure. I bought a book, The Way to Make Wine by Sheridan Warrick. I read it cover to cover to determine how big of a project home winemaking would be. I also watched every YouTube video I could find. I thought this would prepare us for what was to come.
I was horribly, horribly wrong.
If I was going to (a) purchase several hundred pounds of grapes, (b) haul them back to our Baltimore rowhouse, and (c) spend the next 10 months turning them into a consumable beverage, I was going to have to convince my wife that it was something we should do. Caitlin is wonderful in her patience for my ideas (my term) and/or schemes (her term), but she also keeps me in line when I’m too far out over the edge. One example would be the time we were really into Fringe and I suggested it would be a good idea to build a sensory deprivation chamber in the basement. Best nap ever. She said no, flat out. I was disappointed at the time, but it’s probably a key reason I still have friends today. No one is friends with that guy with a sensory deprivation chamber in the basement.
What I’m trying to say is, convincing her this was a good idea wasn’t going to be easy.
My sales pitch was simple: an afternoon in the country, wandering through the vineyard, inspecting grapes, and tasting samples. An idyllic day. She agreed (my term) and/or fell for it (her term). We drove out to the home of our grape grower (Dr. Bob) with stars in our eyes, joyfully anticipating the carefree day ahead of us.
We turned up Dr. Bob’s beautiful tree-lined drive, parked the car, and opened the car doors, only to be enveloped by a swirling, black, buzzing cloud roughly the size of Montana. It was bees. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of bees.
The key thing that no one mentions, not in my books, and not in any of the YouTube videos I watched on the subject, is that when you crush hundreds of pounds of incredibly sweet grapes, you are viciously attacked by thousands and thousands of bees. By viciously attacked, I mean, of course, that the bees buzz around your head. By thousands, I mean at least several.
It feels threatening, because bees are scary. I think they were looking out of the corners of their bee eyes at us. You know, really menacing.
Needless to say, any hope we had for a romantic day of winemaking went out the window. It’s hard to admire the beauty of the vineyard when you’re constantly jumping in response to real and imagined…mostly imagined…bee stings.
You see, this paralyzing fear of stings was misplaced. Bees get so drunk on the juice that they have no interest in stinging you. Unfortunately, this is of little comfort when you’re shoveling grapes into the crusher with your bare hands and grabbing a handful of squrimy bees with every bunch. You heard it here first: there are bees IN wine. Every wine. It’s difficult to say, you know, scientifically, the role that bee guts play in the end product. All I’m saying is, they’re in every bottle you’ve ever enjoyed, so let’s not mess with success.
In fact, next time you order up a glass of red at a social function, you might consider saying, “mmm…bees.” It’s a great conversation starter when people don’t immediately walk away from you. But trust me, you don’t want to be friends with those people anyway. They obviously have no sense of the fantastical.
As we drove home, with our fermenters full of our crushed grapes literally buzzing, we reflected on our misadventure. We knew we needed a name for our wine. Now we had our inspiration. We found the French word for honey bee, abeille. It was perfect. And when you go out into a vineyard to crush grapes for the first time, you can’t say no one ever told you about the bees.