Today we received the news that Erich had died from the cancer with which he’d struggled for many years. It was the news I dreaded, and couldn’t believe would come. Just a few months ago Erich seemed so hale, emerging to greet me and my colleagues, joking about his chemo-baldness: “It’s my Bruce Willis phase.” He gamely kept us company, almost apologetically, in that heart-rending modesty the ill can display. I wish he had stayed with us forever, into the evening, damn the next appointment: stayed to watch the stars and to sip wine and gossip.
This evening I opened a bottle of the 1982 Pfaffenberg Riesling to drink with my own sweetheart, and to honor the memory of this sweetest of men. The wine came fresh from Erich’s cellar. He and his brother Bert were the only ones to know the value of unearthing these Saturnine bottles. It was like Erich to have kept them, or at least a few of them.
This bottle was good, clean cork, good healthy color. Old wine does a trick, or something that seems like a trick. It starts out almost stale and musty, smelling not of itself but of the cellar in which it lay dormant and beating. In the first instant most old wines smell alike; they smell like “old wines.” This one did. So we sat and drank this taciturn herald of time and memory, and thought about the man who made it. Seven years ago Erich renewed the 30-year lease on the vineyard from which it came, a site owned by the monks of the abbey of Passau, who to this day receive a tithe of the production. He told me the story of the ceremony, wondering who would be present for the next renewal, thirty years from now.
The 82 sits in our glasses. And suddenly, miraculously, it transforms itself, it finds the fruit and tenderness with which it was born, it seems to exhale in pure relief, free at last from the confines of glass, and the dark cellar. It sits in the glasses of a man and woman who love each other, and who watch in wonder as it rises from the dead.
December 4, 2007