“Definite hints of cherry,” I say in my best I-went-to-Yale-and-this-wine-is-worth-$200 voice, swirling the burgundy liquid around and around in the thinly stemmed glass. “Some oaky-ness, right?”
“Yeah. Wow, that was on point!” Erika says, clinking glasses with me as she peruses the wine list. “Oh wait, no, I was looking at the wrong description. No, that’s definitely not right.”
That’s how it went. Five 21-year-old girls in Napa, California, on Labor Day, celebrating the societal end of summer, but really just faking it until we made it — or getting drunk trying.
I went to Napa two weeks ago with my five best friends, with plans to bitch about the passing of time. There’s no topic that comes up as often in my apartment. We nostalgically look at photos of ourselves from freshman year (“Look how long my hair used to be!”) while simultaneously complaining about how painful the hangovers have gotten. The five of us have reminisced on our back porch, under twinkling lights, a countless number of times, so we decided to switch locations. Why not have our same-old conversations, but over a couple of glasses of wine in a faraway magical land?
And Napa really is a magical land. It takes a little more than an hour to drive there — roughly 40 miles away — in a shitty Honda Civic Hybrid (which does not go from 0 to 100 real quick). It’s easily accessible but just far away enough. There’s also a castle, a wine train and a giant rabbit statue. If there’s one place where you shouldn’t be bitching about the passing of time, it’s Napa. But for five UC Berkeley seniors, no locale is too beautiful to quit complaining.
We started our day off at a hilltop gallery-cum-winery with stunning views. The art was beautiful. The wine was beautiful. The people were beautiful. Hell, even the bathroom was beautiful. We gingerly checked our every move, looking at (not touching) the expensive wooden cheese boards and hand-cut wine glasses, speaking softly to our hostess, hoping our indoor voices would mask the fact that we had no idea how to expertly wine taste. Only when we sat on the back patio did we completely relax, reverting to our everyday banter, comparing ourselves to the “Sex and the City” cast (“You’re Miranda.” “No, you’re Miranda!” “Fuck, we’re all Miranda.”)
Our conversations ranged from stay-at-home dads to health care reform to Trader Joe’s wine labeling. Not once did we mention the anxiety we felt as we were about to graduate. Not once did I think about my (lack of) job prospects for the coming year. Our conversations ran wildly, jumping from topic to topic and peppered with contagious laughter; the wine ran smoothly. This was how it was always supposed to be!
At the second winery we visited — a small, well-run establishment downtown that doubled as a produce garden — we nibbled on chocolate and sipped curated reds in the presence of tomato vines and fresh herb plants.
“Oooh, this one’s good. Try it,” Simone says, handing me a glass.
“Which one is it?” I ask.
“It’s … oh, it’s the $80 cabernet.” Of course, the most expensive wine on the menu. We drink the wine we think we deserve, right?
“Looks like this is a party!” the winery owner called out to us. I looked around. The midday heat had us in a languid, slouchy state. Soni’s elbows were on the table, her head in her hands. Giana had her sunglasses on. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to sleep behind them. We were five sluggish girls with bad posture eating chocolate bark that was quickly melting on our sweaty palms. I laughed.
In a New Yorker article published last week, the author wrote, “emoting may be quick (though) articulating emotion isn’t.” She was referring to Facebook emoticons, but I think it’s worthwhile to mention here. As time passes, our feelings swell — feelings of anxiety, joy, determination, pride, fear. As we approach graduation, these feelings blur; we feel like we’re experiencing them all at the same point in time, both extremes and everything in between. Articulating this expression is even more difficult than internally coming to terms with it.
We’re in a confusing state of liminality at this point in our lives. We’re old enough for wine tastings yet not quite old enough to completely understand and appreciate what we’re drinking (though we’re all too familiar with the regret-inducing effects). We’re old enough to have real jobs that we’re qualified for yet still yelp in distress when someone we used to hook up with adds us on LinkedIn. (“He’s seen me naked, but I don’t want him to see my resume” was, I believe, the exact way one friend put it.)
But what I realized, as I looked at each of my friends laughing on the back patio in Napa Valley, sharing chocolate and cheap flight tastings, was that it didn’t matter if I didn’t get a stable job the minute I graduated or if I didn’t get into the best graduate school. All that mattered was that I had the right people, my people, going to hell and back with me.
In the end, it’s really who you have, not what you have, that matters. It’s the friends you force to paint the nails of your right hand a sophisticated shade of beige the night before a job interview. It’s the people you share one glass of cabernet sauvignon with because it’s all the five of you can afford, the people you cling tightly to for four years, with the near future looming so close you can nearly smell its unfamiliar, sterile scent.
We will never be this young — it’s true. But who says we have to figure it all out now? Why should we reach a pinnacle at the ripe age of 21? Can’t we testify to life’s perplexing questions with a deeper understanding, one that comes years after we graduate? Don’t we get tastier as we ferment and age? We just may discover that, like a fine wine, we get bolder, brighter and more beautifully complex with age — that we become deeper, fuller, more concentrated. Cheers to finding out!