Having been a winemaker most of my adult life I was accustomed to the cold damp air of the winery. And the faint smell of mold emanating from the thick stonewalls and cement floor of the cellar didn’t bother me at all…. But the sight of steel bars defining the edge of my jail cell terrified the hell out of me.
In my defense I must state that my original actions were innocent and pure. I didn’t rob, cheat or hurt anyone and yet the judge called me “a scoundrel, a guttersnipe and an anarchist.” He said my actions “spat in the face of French history and trampled on the very traditions we hold true and dear.”
My crime? I had the audacity to blend Zinfandel and Syrah with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is not done in France. “As a civilized country we have rules that must be obeyed,” the judge admonished. “They were put in place by men much wiser than you or me to protect our palates from the unexpected.”
My cellmate stared at me from the bottom bunk bed. He was a weathered man in his mid 60s wearing bib overalls and a black beret perched on his thinning gray hair. His three-day beard suggested he had been in prison for three days. “What are you here for?” he questioned.
“I blended Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The “officials” did not like that. It’s an illegal blend in France! How about you?”
“I used an unauthorized trellising system in my Sauvignon Blanc vineyard,” he responded wearily. “What are your plans after you get released?”
“I’m moving to California. I heard in Napa Valley I could plant any variety anywhere and create my own delicious blends no matter how exotic or unconventional. I’m going there! How about you?”
“I don’t want to go to prison anymore and I like it here so I am going to re-trellis my Sauvignon Blanc.” He studied his calloused hands for a moment and then asked, “What do you call your blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet?”
“The Illegitimate,” I replied.
He smiled. “You should go to California, You should do well there.”
“What do you call your Sauvignon Blanc?” I asked.
“Sauvignon Blanc,” he said proudly.
“You should probably stay in France,” I answered.