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I delayed this report a few days so I could hear back from Jerome Dehours – who is currently in harvest – about some concerns I had with a couple of the wines. Overall it was a lovely and delightful sojourn with some fascinating Meunier Champagnes, but with caveats.

I thought about why I do this, send a draft of the report to the grower for comment. It’s not to give them “editorial control,” but rather to have the report arise (as much as possible) from a dialogue whereby I can learn a grower’s intentions. If I don’t like a wine, and if it is indeed the wine the producer wished to make, then we agree to differ. If he perceived my objections before I raised them and has already decided to alter course, then that is something you should know.

Please remember, I do not seek any sort of pure objectivity. I seek rather to continually clarify the parameters of my subjectivity, and this is aided by knowing and appreciating what a producer wanted to do. If they think I have been mistaken or irresponsible, I hope they will tell me.


I noticed a lump on a branch of our crabapple tree. It looked as though the branch had a goiter. It wasn’t there before. This I knew, because the tree is right outside our kitchen window, and we watch it all the time. It is a friendly tree, the kind that makes you fond of where you live. It blossoms most prettily in early May, and in good years it produces a profusion of tart little fruits that stay there even after the leaves have fallen. Then it’s a smorgasbord for all the little critters who live nearby, and who promptly get to work fattening themselves up for the winter.

Thus our tree. And that’s why I noticed right away that something was different. But what could this be? I thought about a bird, but the camouflage would have to be perfect, and the bird atypically motionless. Seemed like long odds.

And yet a bird it was, a dove in fact, just plotzed there on a branch, very close to a squirrel’s nest that seemed to be abandoned. Now we had “motive.” And so I watched. Those days I was often outside on our deck, as I was tasting Carl Loewen’s wines and the days were mild and dry and so I took the wines outside, where wines always taste more vivid. As I was tasting in my deliberate way, the dove began to stir, changing its perch and getting ever closer to the nest, until finally it entered and moseyed around. Alas there was no point from which I could see into the nest from above – it’s the only time in my life I wished I owned a drone – but this dove seemed to have reassured itself that the nest was up for grabs, so she grabbed it.

Yes, “she;” I decided it was a female, for no particular reason except intuition, and also a growing affection. I named her Caroline, also for no reason except I like to know my neighbors’ named. Over the ensuing days, Caroline puttered about the nest. Sometimes we’d see her in it, just her head visible above the twigs, and other times she’d be somewhere at hand, where she could stand to groom herself and preen.

Karen Odessa was sure she was waiting for her mate, and for her I think that Caroline was a poignant symbol of loneliness. I was just glad for her company, whatever the reason. She made her way into my tasting notes, of course. (I say “of course,” partly because wine doesn’t happen in isolation, there are other wonderful things now and again, and also because the avian has been a leitmotif of my relationship with Loewen’s wines, as they have a garden right outside their tasting parlor, and often there were blackbirds singing.)

I tasted over several days, and the wines became inextricable from watching Caroline. We’d check on her many times each day, always glad and reassured she was still there, though my wife remained convinced she was keeping vigil.

Finally one day, it was after about a week, I looked out my bathroom window (where the nest is obscured by overhanging branches) and observed a contretemps of some kind between Caroline and another dove. Heads were whipping about, feathers were fluffing and flying, and though I hoped they were mating I feared they were fighting. After a couple minutes one of the doves flew off to the roof of the next house, and stood there looking down.

Then there were no more doves in the nest.

We watched and watched, and they were gone. But in a day or two, I saw a squirrel makes its way toward the nest from the branch below, looking around warily, until it reached the little structure, and climbed inside. I was honestly kind of appalled. I went out onto the deck, watching balefully, actually making eye contact with the animal, and I wanted to wave my arms menacingly and chase him away, but just when I started doing that I stopped, remembering a cardinal rule – Don’t fuck with nature. Let things happen. Things will take care of themselves. It isn’t always pretty, the good guys often lose, but it’s how it has to be. I tried consoling myself by remembering it was a squirrel who built the nest in the first place. Caroline was the interloper. Just as I was calming myself down I saw two doves on the next-door rooftop, standing maybe three feet apart, looking down at the crabapple tree. Was one of them Caroline? Impossible to know. For all I knew they were just random doves. (Good title for the poetry book I’ll never write: Random Doves.)

The nest sits there now, actually sort of desultory, like abandoned buildings often appear, though I don’t actually know whether the squirrel reclaimed it or just didn’t want anyone else squatting there. I don’t see anyone coming and going, and I’m watching all the time.

I confess I was moved, and I confess I was moved in part for sentimental reasons. Would I have felt the same if it were some noisy obstreperous blue jay laying claim to the empty nest? Probably not. Doves, you have to admit, are pretty endearing. I was already moved by the wines, and the pensive little bird was a correlation from elsewhere in the world of beauty, and the string that stretches across those arcs can vibrate with an eerie and affecting message.

Yes, the happier ending would have been for a nesting pair to have taken up residence in our tree, staying for the rest of the Autumn until they knew our names. I do think, on reflection, that the actual ending was better; the squabble and then no more doves in our tree. The divine only makes quick visits. If it stuck around it wouldn’t be divine any more. It’d just be another thing you took for granted or got tired of. I hope I’m right about this. I miss Caroline. But now I can look for her wherever I go, and seeking is good.

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