April 24, 2013
Drew Barrymore Sings to Us About Wine

While at the Pebble Hill Food & Wine Festival, Esquire caught up with Drew who sang about Wine!

An interview is at its best when a question provokes the subject to see his or her own life in an unexpected way.

But it was even better for me last weekend. The opposite occurred when I sat with Drew Barrymore at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival.

I had come to this festival for reasons that I didn’t fully understand. And while under a huge white exposition tent, I approached the actress to ask about the new wine being introduced in her name.

One thing I know about wine. Everybody has his or her own personal entry point. I sensed that her wine meant something special to her simply because it’s a Pinot Grigio.

When it comes to the world’s great wines, Pinot Grigio never enters discussions. It’s a light white wine that knows how to refresh a warm spring or — better yet — hot summer day. It comes from a humble grape that blends into the moment, never tries to steal the scene, preferring to fit in, relaxed and comfortable.

Few people outside of a certain area in Italy would even think about starting a wine label around a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Because Drew chose to start with a grape that had absolutely no ego, I was curious if there was a moment that sparked the endeavor.

She poured two glasses, handed me one, and out of nowhere, asked: “What’s the best moment you’ve had today?”

We had just met, and therefore there was no way she could have known what a loaded question that was.

There were many people waiting to speak to her, and there was no time to explain that almost fifteen years before I had absolutely no knowledge of wine and gone off to learn about it at a restaurant called Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Center.

So I didn’t tell her how two of the best wine teachers in the world had taken me in to show me how to become a sommelier so that I could write a funny story about a rookie serving wine above the clouds. It may have started out as a lark, but I quickly fell in love with wine, spent a couple of years learning all I could about it in what seemed to be an endless chain of parties and generosity, and, on a memorable night in 2001, actually did serve as a sommelier at the top of the World Trade Center.

Just as I prepared to write the story, two planes smashed into the twin towers, took the buildings down and more than three thousand lives with them, and wine just didn’t quite taste the same to me afterward, and I didn’t drink it very often.

The experience haunted me for the obvious reasons, and more. I couldn’t write about it, just couldn’t figure out how to balance the joy of all those lifted glasses and the tragedy that smashed into them. A lot had been invested. Years began to pass. At odd moments at three in the morning I began to question my very essence. If I couldn’t write about one of the seminal moments in my lifetime, how could I even call myself a writer?

It took ten years for the U.S. military to catch up with the man responsible for the carnage. And just as long for me to figure out how to write the story that I needed to write. It won a big award. Shortly afterward, I met the two guys running the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival, and they invited me. As soon as I stepped into The Inn at Spanish Bay it felt like walking into the happy ether that had evaporated around me on September 11, 2001, that magnetic attraction of people who love to share the love of sharing.

“Let’s see,” I repeated Drew’s question. “What’s the best moment I’ve had today? So far I’ve met eight people who I’d never seen before this morning. I’ve hugged them, they’ve hugged me, and I may well be friendly with them for the rest of my life.”

She smiled — and I added: “It may happen with you, too.”

Drew glanced at the line of people waiting to see her and said: “We’ve got a few minutes to find out.”

We lifted glasses, clinked them, and I felt the Pinot Grigio roll around the inside of my cheeks. I was not that type of sommelier who liked to use phrases like “shows hints of citrus.” Wine was, and always will be, music to me.

“If this wine were a song,” I asked her, “what would it be?”

Her face pulled back, her eyes went skyward and her lips opened. It was a question she’d never been asked, and she liked that. But she didn’t have an immediate answer.

Instead she told me how she’d grown up in West Hollywood in “unfancy” circumstances. To one day get to visit a vineyard in Italy, to be on a little cigarette boat moving across Lake Garda, were revelatory moments in her life. She said she sought to create a wine that could balance anything that makes you want to complain about your day.

She took another sip, and started to channel Etta James.

Oh-oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling…

It felt like I had returned home and simultaneously started off on a new adventure.

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