Your life will change. Such was the understatement by relatives and friends with children who tried to explain the inexplicable: what happens after you give birth.
I pondered this ineffectuality of language on a recent sunny Saturday while my son celebrated his fourth birthday in a haze of chocolate cake and Silly String in our backyard. How could I have anticipated the vast joy I would find at a party fueled primarily by sunshine, lemonade and oversize bouncing balloons, with nary a drop of wine in sight? Life has certainly changed.
Raising a child and working full-time inflicts a sort of tunnel vision that tends to obscure all but the most personally crucial events. I remember emerging from our house one early spring morning when my son was scarcely 6 weeks old, peering through the still-bare trees to discover the neighbors had completed an addition that nearly doubled the size of their house. We hadn't noticed.
Listening to the shrieks of delight at my son's party, I wondered what else had changed while I had been keeping my eyes on him. The recession, and its devastating effect on media companies, the tides of local and national politics, various rises and falls of power brokers and politicians—I had registered most of those in the past four years. The fates of Hollywood romances, the most popular series on TV, the hottest pop star—not so much. I stand mystified in the grocery store checkout aisle, wondering, who are these people on the tabloid covers? And how, I wondered, have wine habits changed since 2007?
At the adults-only after-party, a few wine-drinking friends offered their reflections. The grown-up portion of the day was not quite as jubilant as the kids' fiesta, but we did discover that the leftover slices of Helen Hudson Whiting's Celestial Chocolate Cake (find the recipe in Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes) go well with the full berry flavors of Gabbiano chianti.
And I was reminded of another reason to celebrate: It's easier to buy more kinds of good, cheap wine today than it was before my son was born. More often, my friends said, when they talk with their wine merchants, they mention the amount of money they want to spend, as quickly as what kind of finish they like on their chardonnay. Savvy wine drinkers realize they can get quality bottles for $15 or less. (Check out the 2011 edition of The Wine Trials from Fearless Critic press for almost 200 examples.)
In some ways, we have the recession to thank for this. More people in the United States drink wine than ever before. In fact, we are expected to become the largest wine market in the world by next year, polishing off 3.96 billion bottles annually, according to the International Wine and Spirits Record. In 2007, before the economic bubble burst, we ranked third in wine consumption. And while our appetite for alcohol is generally recession-proof, most of us are facing the reality of decreased disposable income by becoming much shrewder about how we dispose of it.
As American thirst for wine has increased, wine production has kept a steady pace. Between 2003 and 2007, wine production around the globe grew to 2.8 billion cases per year, an uptick of 1.7 percent. By 2012, worldwide production is expected to top 3 billion cases, a growth of 3.8 percent.
Wine from previously unknown regions of Spain, Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Germany and even North Carolina is finding its way to the increasing number of Triangle wine shop shelves. Earlier this month, our state marked the opening of its 100th winery, a sign that the industry is robust locally as well as internationally.
I've noticed these changes in the wine landscape as I have moved through the whir of life, just as I've marked my son's endless developments: the new word in his lexicon, the size 4T pants that are suddenly half an inch too short, the abundance of well-priced vinho verde, tempranillo and torrontes on the local market.
But it's good to pause and raise a glass to the blessings of change from time to time, whether that's a plastic cup filled with pink lemonade or stemware filled with your favorite red.