MWWC 34: Memory

I have often said that the best part of wine is sharing it with someone.  As such, there are some wines and/or wineries that will always and forever remind me of a specific person, like Teresa & Grape Creek or Nerida & Chandon.  Or even Matthew & Silver Oak–ironically not because we’ve consumed copious amount of Silver Oak, but because we arrived at their tasting room 5 minutes after they closed and I might have had a momentary meltdown that ended 4 seconds later with Matthew flatly informing me to get back in the car or he was going back to San Jose without me.

In case you’re wondering what this has to do with Hawaii: nothing.  What it has to do with is that this month’s wine writing challenge (#34), as selected by last month’s winner Kent of Appetite for Wine, is MEMORY.

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I was trying to figure out which wine holds the most memories for me, however, I realized that was a bit like picking a favorite child.  Instead, I decided to pick a winery.

I’ve talked about the Chisholm Trail Winery before.  I mean, any winery that can get me to love their merlot is quite special indeed–and their 1994 Merlot did just that.  But their cabernets–spectacular: fruity, but dry with just a tiny bit of spice and oh-so-smooth.

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But the wines aren’t the reason that I picked this winery.

Perhaps you might think that it has to do with winemaker, Paula K. Williamson, who is charismatic, has an infectious laugh, and is almost never seen without her signature black Stetson.  But no, while Paula is fabulous and I adore her, she is not the reason either.

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You might even think that it’s because Christi & I spent one hot August day helping Paula & crew pick grapes in the vineyard and then watched the bottling process while sampling some of the winery favorites.  It was a long, fun-filled, exhausting day, but no.  That’s not it either.

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The reason Chisholm Trail Winery holds so many memories for me has nothing to do with wine at all.  It is because the land where the winery sits used to be owned by my family.  Specifically my great-great Uncle Hugo.  Hugo was my grandfather’s uncle and we spent a lot of time at Uncle Hugo’s because he had the best fishing hole in the county.  As a young girl I spent hours and hours at the creek behind the house, which now runs long the south side of the vineyards.  I spent hours running around the old, gigantic trees scattered around the now-winery picking flowers for Granny, who rarely came with us.

It’s been probably 35 years since I last went fishing with Uncle Hugo, but every time I open a bottle of Chisholm Trail wine, memories flood back.  I feel the sun on my face, the cool water tickling my feet, and can hear Uncle Hugo’s hearty laugh.  There are many reasons to love Chisholm Trail winery and their wines.  But for me, I love it because tastes like home.

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Cheers!

 

 

MWWC #29: My Winestory

In this month’s wine writing challenge, John of Pairs With: Life challenged us to tell our Winestory, aka what lead us down the path of awesomeness that is wine writing.  Technically, I just dabble in the wine writing while drinking a lot, but here goes:

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Picture it: Fredericksburg, Texas 1994.  I was home from college for Thanksgiving break and a job opportunity presented itself.  My cousin had been offered a job at a local wine tasting room and declined because she was working at a winery (Grape Creek Vineyards) at the time.  She told me to go apply.  Having fell in love with red wine from the Riojas just the year before (read all about it here!), I marched (okay, drove….around the block 4 times looking for a parking spot) down to said wine tasting room and asked about the job.  My interview went something like this:  have you ever worked in a winery or wine tasting room before?  No, but I like to drink wine and honestly, isn’t that half the battle?  Can you wash dishes?  Of course, who says no to that in an interview?! Great! You’re hired!  (okay, it was slightly more in depth than that, but not much).

My first job?  Try all the wine on the bar available for tasting.  After all, how you could describe a wine you’ve never tasted before?  So I tasted and tasted and tasted some more.  Nearly every Texas winery was represented.  Right now, my inner wine-geek wants to name them all, but my inner OCD is afraid I’d miss someone and it would drive me nuts.

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Job 2?  Washing a lot of glasses.  TONS and TONS of glasses!  I only mention this because Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend in the store and there were a lot of people in the tasting room that weekend.

Job 3?  Cleaning up an entire rack of dropped glasses.  The truly sad part was that I just hand washed and hand dried them all (sigh).

So, for the first few days that’s all I did: taste wine, wash glasses, and clean up (although thankfully the breaking of the glasses significantly decreased!).  But….I also listened.  I listened to my coworkers describe wine.  I saw how customers reacted to their descriptions and I noticed that whatever each worker liked best is what sold best on that day because they got excited about it and could get the customer excited as well.

I was determined to channel that excitement, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked.  First of all, I preferred (and still do) dry, spicy full bodied reds.  But I quickly discovered that wasn’t actually a popular choice amongst the majority of our customers.  They were looking for something fun.  Something easy to drink.  Something to walk down the street with while shopping (oh yeah, you can do that in Fredericksburg!).

Thus, I had to change tactics.  And instead of trying to get people excited about the wine that I liked, I tried to get them excited to find that special bottle of wine in the store that was going to make them love wine.  I started listening and asking them a lot of questions .  After awhile I realized I was good at something other than just washing and breaking glasses:  I was good at wine pairing.  Not just pairing wine with food, but with people:  finding that one  bottle that was going to make a them a wine lover.  Being a fellow beer-lover as well, I couldn’t fault the non-converts who just wanted to stick to beer.  But for everyone else, I tried to focus on creating an ambience where it wasn’t just about the wine, but was about having fun and allowing customers to go on their own journey to be able to proclaim “I love wine!”

Sometimes it was a challenge, especially when snobby wine people came in insisting that they only like [insert trendy wine region here] and they’d never like any that came from Texas.  They were the most fun to convert.  Did it always happen?  No! I was a wine peddler, not a miracle worker!

The other thing I really loved was getting to know the winemakers.  They are truly an amazing group of people.  We often had special tastings on the weekends and would invite the winemakers to join us to tell our customers about what makes their wine so special.  It was like getting a sneak peek behind the curtain!

But you’re here to hear how I got into wine writing–so let’s fast forward a few (or more) years when I decided that I needed a change and moved to New York City (with 7 cases of Texas wine, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, and a warning from my brother not to get pulled over for speeding otherwise I’d be arrested for bootlegging!).

I have to admit, it was nice to be able to walk into a wine store and just browse, but after some time, I started missing the wine-speak: the geeking out over a great $10 bottle or splurging on the bottle of bubbles.  I missed talking about wine. And then one day serendipity struck and I was followed by The Drunken Cyclist.  Of course, I immediately followed him back because I knew that anyone with the slogan: I have three passions: wine, cycling, travel, family, and math. had to be amazing–and I’m not just saying that for the vote!!.

A few weeks later, I noticed that he put up a Wine Writing Challenge (#10, I believe) and I thought why not?  I didn’t really consider myself a “wine writer,” but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to do what I love most with wine: share it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So that’s my WINESTORY…and I’m sticking to it.

🙂 Shez

PS–Okay, I can’t let it go, so I’m going to apologize if I missed anyone and maybe check back regularly to see if I’ve added more…or feel free to comment if you know of any that need to be added!

Texas Wineries when I started working at the wine shop, Texas Wines, Etc., in no particular order and as best I can remember after over 2 decades of consuming copious amounts of wine (but that’s a story for another time!):

  1.  Grape Creek Vineyards
  2. Bell Mountain Vineyards
  3. Becker Vineyards
  4. Sister Creek Winery
  5. Texas Hills Vineyards
  6. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards
  7. Fall Creek Vineyards
  8. Val Verde Winery
  9. Messina Hof Winery
  10. Llano Estacado Winery
  11. Cap*Rock Winery
  12. McReynold’s Winery
  13. St. Genevive Winery
  14. Spicewood Winery
  15. Wimberley Valley Wines
  16. Piney Woods Country Wines
  17. Homestead Winery
  18. La Buena Vida Winery
  19. Inwood Estate Vineyards

Try The Wine…Again.

This month’s wine writing challenge is Second Chances.  It was selected by last month’s MWWC winner, Jill from L’occasion.  And I must confess that it was a bit hard to focus on second chances when all I can think of when I see second is:

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But then I remind myself that the best breakfasts always include some sort of festive libation, which loops me back around to wine…and second chances.  And when I think about wine and second chances, three things come to mind.

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The first thing I think of in regards to second chances with wine is a reminder I like to impart to new wine drinkers: keep drinking and trying wine outside of one’s preferred palate and don’t forget to revisit these wines from time to time to see if and how one’s palate has changed…a second chance, if you will. 😉  As their palate evolves, so too evolves their choices in wine.  Many will find that initially hated wines end up being a house staple.  Over the years working at the wine shop, I saw a lot of this with my regular customers who initially came in with the silly notion that “I don’t like [insert wine here]” and within a few visits, were drinking aforementioned wine–or at the very least, something similar.

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But I think it’s a valuable tip to seasoned wine drinkers as well.  Isn’t that why we purchase extra bottles?  To lay them down for months or years and try them again? At least in theory? At my house, rather than saving them, it usually ends up being “oh what the hell, let’s jussss open another riiiiiight now!”  And one turns into two, which turns into we’ll just get more at the wine shop later…stop judging me, it’s been a long week!

Anyway, I do a lot better hoarding my TEXAS! wine because you can’t purchase it here in New York City (or State for that matter), so I’m actually still sitting on a few bottles that I brought up with me 8 years ago (Becker, Grape Creek, Sister Creek, McPherson, Chisholm Trail, Messina Hof, and Flat Creek…alright, more than a few).  It is usually even more delicious the second time around (or third or fourth…depending on the number of bottles and your willpower!).  Although it doesn’t always go to plan and I’ve had to tragically dump a bottle or two.  However, that doesn’t mean that I go and dump them all–that would be a travesty indeed! For more tales about that, go here: Success.

Finally, don’t forget that the same can also be said of vintages!  So many things can have an effect on how a particular wine tastes from year to year.  Some years it is minute nuances, and some years it varies between “OMFG! This is the best they’ve ever made!” and “What the hell were they thinking?”

Take for example, Grape Creek‘s Cabernet Trois. Grape Creek has been making their Cabernet Trois for a looooong time now.  It is a blend of the three Cabernet grapes: Sauvignon, Ruby, and (my favorite) Franc.  It was THE first Texas wine I fell in love with.  It was deep and flavorful with just the right amounts of fruitiness balanced with spice.  At the time (mid-90s) it very much stood out from a lot of Texas reds, which tended to either be very sweet and heavy or thin and so dry the BFF likened it to leaving your mouth feeling like you’ve eaten sandpaper.  But not the Trois.  It was dry, yes, but with a lot of mouthfeel and delicate flavors.  It was delicious, won a lot of awards, and was my go-to Texas red wine for years.  But then slowly the taste of it changed.  I’m not sure if it was due to the grapes or the wine maker or the need to shake things up a bit.  Maybe all three!  People still loved it, it still won awards, but I was no longer a huge fan, preferring other varietals in Grape Creek’s line-up, like their merlot (shocking, but true, in fact, I still have a bottle of the merlot hanging out in the wine rack downstairs!).

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NOT my hand, btw, but you gotta love the internet where you can find pictures of anything, like a Texas wine from 20 years ago!  Click on pic to got to Vivino, where I found the pic.

Fast forward to a recent trip home where I was in my old wine shop tasting wines from all the new Texas wineries that have popped up in the last several years when my old favorite caught my eye.  Should I?  Should I not?  How could I not?  So I thought, “what the hell?!?” and gave it another chance.  And guess what?  It was back to having all those little nuances that I originally loved about the Cabernet Trois 20 years ago: the fruit, the spice, the mouthfeel.  It was like welcoming an old friend home.

Most importantly, it was a vivid reminder that in a day and age where it is always full steam ahead and looking for the next great thing, sometimes it pays to take a step back and revisit some old friends.  Thanks for the delicious reminder Grape Creek!

Cheers!

MWWC #19: To Wine Or Not To Wine?

I know you’re thinking “what a silly question,” but an appropriate one for this post…because a) wine why not? and b) Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick, the winner of the last Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, selected the theme for this month’s Challenge to be CHOICES.

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Everyday we make thousands of choices–some are subconscious, some are instinctual, some are habitual, some regrettable, some are hard, some are easy, and a lot are somewhere in between.  But I have a confession about these choices that I hope doesn’t get me lynched by my lovely wine blogging superstars: I don’t always choose wine, in fact, I rarely do.  That is not to say that I don’t enjoy, love, cherish, and revel in wine–because I do all the above.  I just…well…usually…pick beer.  I’ll give you a moment to sob uncontrollably while going through all the stages of loss.  I only ask that when you get to the anger stage and are threatening to smite me, you leave the Princess out of it…

Now before you gather the pitchforks and angry villagers, let me just say that it’s not that I like beer better than wine.  It’s that beer is easy.  And really, it’s the “easy” part that attracts me to the B-word.  I know what I like and while I also like to try new beers, I have certain go-tos that are non-negotiable.  If I go into any establishment (other than sporting events) and either Stella or Guinness are not on the menu, chances are I’m making a u-turn and heading out before you can even say “well, do you have…”

But this is not true with wine.  I mean, I have my favorites–but a lot of them are Texas wines and you can’t find them anywhere but the great state of Texas and my wine rack (and perhaps other wine racks–but most people are generally opposed to you walking into their house and pilfering their wine selection, especially if they don’t know you!).  So then it becomes a gamble of “is it worth $10-15/glass” for something I’ve never heard of?  Sometimes it is.  When out at a nice meal, especially when that meal is Italian or steak, wine is non-negotiable.

At home, the choice is probably about 50-50.  That is to say about 50% of the year (aka spring and summer), my choice is beer and 50% of the year (aka autumn and winter), my choice is red wine.  Part of the issue is that–as I’ve mentioned before–I’m not a big white wine drinker and when it’s 96F with 87% humidity, red wine is just too heavy.  I can’t lie, I’ve never spent 2 hours doing yard work and thought “mmmmm, I just want a nice glass of chardonnay.” [note: I almost NEVER pick chardonnay, so if you hear those words come out of my mouth, you should just assume my body has been taken over by aliens and consider locking me up!]

At home beer is also easier choice because at any given moment I usually have two maybe three kinds in the fridge: Shiner, Guinness, and whatever struck my fancy one day, usually like a cider…mmm…Stella Cidre

Ahem, anyway, the point being that my choice with beer is pretty easy.  With wine, it’s not so clear cut.  I currently have 19 bottles of 8 different varietals, so then I get stuck in the details: do I want something I can drink by itself?  Or something I can drink with a snack plate or something big and bold and in your face?  Do I want to wait while I chill a viognier?  Am I overthinking?  Perhaps, but it’s wine!  And these things can’t be taken lightly, unlike beer (because apparently, I’m trying to get the die-hard beer nerds to lynch me as well!) 😉

Success.

This month’s wine writing challenge, Success, was selected by my BFF (that would be blogger friend forever), Loie of CheapWineCurious, as a result of winning last month’s challenge. I would like to interject that the BFF title was self-appointed by me.  I’m sure Loie is currently reaching for her phone to send my information to all law enforcement west of the Mississippi…

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Success is a drinkable bottle of wine.

I am a wine drinker.  And by that, I mean, I am not a wine collector.  Sure, I have a few very special bottles that I have saved over the years–but most of them are deemed special because the winemaker has signed the bottle for me.

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But I do not buy wine to lay it down for years and years, delicately babying it until the moment it is perfect to open and decant and blah, blah, blah.  Not that I think collecting wine is a bad thing, I just have no self control.  It’s like an open bag of M&Ms: it’s just not going to last, despite my best efforts.

Lack of self-control aside, the other reason I don’t save wine is because I don’t have a great place to store it.  I currently live in an old drafty house that’s a bit too chilly in the winter and way too warm in the summer.  I don’t mind, but it certainly isn’t conducive to keeping bottles for years.  And I think we can all agree there’s nothing more tragic than pouring a bottle of wine down the drain because it was bad.

When I choose to open the aforementioned bottles, I mentally prepare myself that it will probably be bad–that way IF it is, I’m not too devastated.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still very sad but I’m not openly sobbing and throwing myself to the floor bemoaning my tragic loss.  If it’s still good, it’s like a celebration and I feel like I should open another bottle!

There are three notable exceptions.  Granted, I did not buy any of these wines with the intentions of holding them for so long, rather I just knew I wanted to save them for a fabulous occasion.

Remember these posts about my very special Burgundy that I have been holding on to for years?

Wine Pairing     Savoring Life

What better occasion than drinking it with the one person on the planet would I knew would enjoy it as much as I would and in honor of a BIG birthday ( I hope you appreciate how I tied in this month’s writing challenge with my current topic of my Fabulous Not Forty birthday trips!).

I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous–first in getting the bottle safely to Florida and then in hoping that it would not be corked.  I couldn’t even bring myself to try the whole “think of it being bad, so I wouldn’t be devastated” ploy.  In fact, I was in full panic mode while opening it.  I knew that if it was corked Christi & TK were going to have to pick up a blubbering idiot off the kitchen floor.  Actually, they’d probably just leave me there for the night (hopefully throwing a blanket over me before they went to bed).  I nearly cried tears of joy when I realized the bottle was in fact, not corked. SUCCESS!  I may have teared up a little bit.  I certainly needed a moment while drinking it.

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The other two were both wines I loved drinking but as the vintage came to an end, I became a bit of a hoarder.  I moved up to New York with three bottles of each left.

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So far on the Becker Vineyards 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, I am 1 for 2.  The first bottle I opened last year–and honestly 8 years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you would have told me I’d be keeping this wine around for so long.  It was amazing.  Delicious and spicy: a big, bold-in-your-face cabernet sauvignon.  It was everything I remembered, but the spicy notes were more pronounced and the wine was overall very smooth.  I was so excited that it was drinking so well that I opened another bottle a few nights later, and alas–down the drain it went along with big, fat teardrops.  I have one more left and remain hopeful…

Happily, I am 2 for 2 on the Chisholm Train Winery 2001 Barrel Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Also a big and bold cabernet sauvignon, however, with a lot less spice and much drier than the Becker.  Both bottles were really smooth and opened up very nicely (thanks Paula!).  I will say that this wine has mellowed considerably.  Rather than being biiiiig with a very dry, clean finish, it is big and dry, but now with a lingering currant and blackberry finish.  I’m probably jinxing myself, but I’m actually excited about my last bottle.

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I am envious of those who collect wine, but personally it’s too stressful for me.  I want every time I open a bottle of wine to be a success.  And while I know that any bottle can be bad–for a plethora of reasons–in my brain, the longer it stays in my wine rack, the greater the chance that will happen.  Thus far my track record has been pretty good, so some might think my reasoning flawed.  However, I prefer not to take that chance.  You know, just like letting M&Ms go stale…

Go Texan.

This Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#12) theme is LOCAL.  And I’m so thankful to The Drunken Cyclist for issuing a reminder, or rather letting everyone know that it’s not too late….because honestly, I thought it was too late!

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As I might have mentioned a time or thirty, I used to work at a wine shop and tasting room specializing in Texas wines.

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When I started, it was a summer job and there 33 Texas wineries.  Now a few (and by a few I mean 20) years later there over 275 Texas wineries.  So here are some fun facts about Texas wines (thanks to Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association):

The first vineyard was was planted near El Paso in 1662 by Franciscan Monks–making it one of the oldest in the United States.

Texas ranks fifth in wine production in the United States and has 4,400 acres of family owned vineyards.

Texas has eight recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA).

  1. Texas High Plains: Located west of Lubbock in the Panhandle at an elevation of 3000-4000 feet, the climate of this appellation is very dry. While the AVA encompasses over 8 million acres, there were approximately 3500 acres dedicated to grape growing in 2005.
  2. Escondido Valley: This appellation established in 1992 covers 50 square miles in Pecos County in far West Texas, located near Fort Stockton
  3. Texas Hill Country: Located west of Austin and San Antonio, this appellation, like Texas, is large. It is the second largest AVA in the USA, containing more than 9 million acres. Two smaller appellations, listed below, have been designated within the Texas Hill Country due to the unique microclimates they embody. Many wineries are located in this scenic area.
  4. Bell Mountain (within Texas Hill Country): Designated in 1986, it is the first established AVA in Texas, covering five square acres about 15 miles north of Fredericksburg.
  5. Fredericksburg (within Texas Hill Country): This viticultural area covers about 110 acres with approximately 60 under vine.
  6. Mesilla Valley: Located at the far western tip of the Texas border north and west of El Paso, this area is hot and dry with a long growing season and approximately 40 acres of cultivated grapes.
  7. Texas Davis Mountains: With about 50 acres planted with vines, this west Texas appellation is cool and wet at an elevation ranging from 4,500 to 8,300 feet.
  8. Texoma: Located in north-central Texas, this area contains approximately 3,650 square miles along the Texas-Oklahoma line.

Texas produces about 3.0 million gallons of wine yearly.

The Texas Wine industry has an economic impact of nearly $2 billion annually (yeah, that billion with a B!).

The oldest continuously running winery is Val Verde, which was started in 1883 by Frank Qualia–and is still owned by the Qualia family today.  Btw, their Don Luis Tawny Port is amazing (I mean, you could disagree with me, but you’d be wrong!).

How does this relate to me?  Well, see AVAs #2, 3, and 4?  That’s my home and I will happily tout the wineries therein.  Every time I am home, I will go back to my wine shop and see what’s new in the area and, of course, try some of my favorites that I have been drinking over the last 20 years, such as Becker, Grape Creek, Texas Hills, Sister Creek, Dry Comal Creek, and Fall Creek.

Of course, there are many more.  But these guys were around when I started working at the wine shop and they will always be my go-to wineries when recommending wineries where one can get a great tour and the opportunity to taste some of the best wine that Texas has to offer.  

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Great wine can be found all over the state–but since this post is about local and local to me means home, I’m sticking with the Hill Country wineries.

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There are two others that I would be terribly remiss in not mentioning: Bell Mountain and Chisholm Trail–to me, they are more than just wineries, they truly are home.  You see, right next door to the ranch sits Bob & Evelyn’s beloved Bell Mountain Winery.  In fact, the hill where our house sat?  It’s on their poster.  I mean, you can’t get more local than that.  Unless, of course, you’re talking about Paula at Chisholm Trail, who purchased the land for her vineyard from my great, great uncle Hugo.  It was her 1994 Merlot that actually made me give non-blended merlots a chance.  While, they are still not my favorite grape by any stretch of the imagination, I will drink, and even (gasp!) purchase them from time to time–and that’s all thanks to Paula!

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When I moved to NYC, I moved with the bare necessities: the pupcicle, my books, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, 5 cases of Texas wine, and a bit of furniture and clothing.  After my brother closed the door of the U-Haul, he hugged me and whispered “drive carefully because if you get pulled over, you’ll be arrested for bootlegging.”

Thanks Bubba, but I have NO INTENTIONS WHAT-SO-EVER of selling any (or even sharing!) anything in those 8 cases!!  I don’t think I have ever driven more carefully in my life!  Because, of course, I had Momma and the pupcicle with me, but also because I had no intentions of having my precious cargo confiscated!

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