Drink

How Wine Is Keeping Me Connected to the Philly I Love

“Wine, like it has since its conception, brings us together. Right now, it’s mediated by a screen. Gewurztraminer via FaceTime.”

Photo by Quinn Kelley

When I received the email March 16th that the restaurant where I work would be closing for the foreseeable future, I was despondent. I’m a server at Pizzeria Beddia, and though restaurant closures in the city were starting to trickle in, the impact of coronavirus had not yet felt personal. My friends and coworkers — synonymous to me at this job — gathered at the restaurant later that day to pick up our final tips and take home totes full of bread and tomato pie. Our next stop was Fishtown Social, which was selling off its wine inventory.

We all picked up a few bottles for home, as well as the cheapest bottle of sparkling they had. We shared a farewell toast out of plastic cups in Palmer Park and didn’t hug goodbye.

 

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As coronavirus wreaks a devastating global toll, wine has never been more superfluous. It’s also what’s connecting me to my friends, my place of work and a world outside of my studio apartment.

Before Pizzeria Beddia opened just over a year ago, the opening staff spent two weeks receiving a crash course in food, restaurant culture and natural wine. At that point, I had worked in the restaurant industry for less than a year, thought I was allergic to red wine (I wasn’t) and knew little beyond dry versus sweet. Part of the appeal of this new job was the opportunity to be immersed in wine, something I had an interest in but didn’t really know how to pursue.

The details of a day spent tasting 18 wines and accidentally skipping lunch are hazy, but my fascination with this new world of low-intervention, limited-production, mind-blowing bottles was not. I knew nothing, but I was hooked.

We’ve spent the past year rotating through a selection of compelling wines at the restaurant, and tasting almost all of them as a staff along the way. At wine class with our general manager, we would taste and smell examples of embraced flaws (like volatile acidity), and not-so-embraced ones (like extreme mousiness). We learned to love the volcanic minerality of a Mt. Eta nerello mascalese and the barnyard funk of a grolleau — but the more expertise we gained, the less we knew, revealing an exciting, overwhelming well of untapped knowledge.

A shared night off with coworkers often means opening a few fun bottles at one of our homes. Access to a car looks like a field trip to New Jersey to check out a bottle shop or two outside of the city limits. Wine, like it has since its conception, brings us together. Right now, it’s mediated by a screen. Gewurztraminer via FaceTime.

 

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Wine is nonessential, and probably the last thing I should spend money on right now. But as I wait to receive unemployment benefits and restaurants across the country are stuck in will-they-or-won’t-they-reopen limbo, my grasp on money and time are more tenuous than ever. Twenty dollars for a bottle of Brianne Day’s 2019 orange wine goes far in feeling connected to my friends, the job I love, and a world outside of my walls. If only for those few glasses, I feel a return to normalcy.

Though my disposable income is limited, it feels more important than ever to support our favorite producers and small businesses when we can. Natural wine is a producer-driven movement, buoyed by independent bottle shops that help make up the fabric of the cities we love to live in.

And though wine is absolutely a luxury, it’s something that brings me immense joy in my everyday life. While my days have temporarily been stripped of most other signs of routine, I value those consistent pleasures more than ever before.

As we focus our priorities and our pantries down to the essentials under quarantine, it reminds me what nonessentials like wine bring to our lives. To enjoy wine is not to be productive. To enjoy a bottle of wine is to pause, to commune, to share a fleeting experience. In five glasses, it expresses something about the place it’s from, the way it’s grown, the people who make it.  It provides the opportunity to slow down and derive pleasure under an economic system that often denies us both.

 

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Those of us in good health and with a safe home are the luckiest bystanders of this pandemic. Though my friends and I are out of work, it is impossible not to feel a swell of gratitude. It’s an immense privilege to be able to drink a glass of wine and feel grateful for that ability, while healthcare workers tirelessly care for people infected and don’t have that time or luxury.

How we can help, of course, is to stay inside, contain this virus, and put our time, money and resources into the people and places we hope to see on the other side. I’m waiting impatiently to return to the friends and restaurant guests who made me love my job. Until then, I’m enjoying a Georges Descombes gamay, a Christoph Hoch gruner veltliner and a volatile pet-nat rose from Olivier Lemasson, wines I know and love from work.

I’m saving a bottle of Las Jaras Sweet Berry Wine, a Secret Santa gift I received in our holiday exchange, for a hard night. I already know it would be better enjoyed with friends.

Quinn Kelley is a writer and server at Pizzeria Beddia.