Wine nev­er made its way into my family’s hol­i­day meals when I was grow­ing up. It was giv­en a short shrift to chal­lah, which stole the spot­light. Even bit­ter herbs and hard-boiled eggs gar­nered more atten­tion dur­ing Passover than the four glass­es we were sup­posed to con­sume. In wine’s place was grape juice, care­ful­ly doled out drop by drop with my pinky fin­ger as we recit­ed the plagues. I nev­er ques­tioned it, nor thought about why wine wasn’t a part of our lives. Dur­ing Purim, weren’t we sup­posed to get so drunk that we couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence between Mordechai and Haman? Even Fri­day nights should have got­ten a glass, the orig­i­nal hap­py hour. I didn’t feel its absence because I was nev­er in its presence.

Per­haps because of this, I spent most of my time in col­lege sober, until late into my junior year, when adult­hood became a tan­gi­ble, pal­pa­ble thing and what had pre­vi­ous­ly elud­ed me in terms of appeal shift­ed to a rite of pas­sage. Cran­ber­ry juice and vod­ka, cheap dol­lar Buds, and shots of Mal­ibu, its sticky sweet­ness coat­ing my tongue. Oh, I thought, the first time I got buzzed. I see now. 

After grad­u­at­ing col­lege, I moved to New York. I can’t real­ly remem­ber what I drank in those ten­der, ear­ly years in this daz­zling city. I was too tak­en with the free­dom of being out on a Wednes­day night and danc­ing under the pul­sat­ing lights. Or slid­ing across a but­tery leather ban­quette at 11:00 PM to first have din­ner. Work func­tions, gallery open­ings, dat­ing: drinks were present at all of them, but noth­ing tru­ly mem­o­rable. Until my mom came to visit.

Accord­ing to the book Booze and Jews, dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, a loop­hole in the Vol­stead Act allowed wine to be served for reli­gious pur­pos­es. For non-Jews, this dis­pen­sa­tion — Sec­tion 6 — was embraced in the church (as much as any­thing could be con­sid­ered legal dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion). But Shab­bat takes place at home. Rab­bis became importers, and sacra­men­tal wine shops mush­roomed in Jew­ish neighborhoods. 

Giv­en my family’s track record, it should come as no sur­prise that wine revealed its impor­tance in my life out­side of the house.

I had only been in New York for a cou­ple of years. There was no child­hood home any­more. My par­ents had divorced and moved away, so the only thing I was teth­ered to was this dream of being a life­long New York­er. This was the age where the dynam­ics of our moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship shift­ed, my adult self stretch­ing out­side the out­line of the lit­tle girl she held in her mind, the for­mer mile­stones that marked her as an adult becom­ing my own. We let the serv­er guide us to a bot­tle of white wine and went back to our busi­ness of appre­ci­at­ing each oth­er in a new way.

Dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, a loop­hole in the Vol­stead Act allowed wine to be served for reli­gious purposes.

There’s no ratio­nal way to under­stand how or why the wine had an effect. But it made sense: its ener­gy, its fla­vors, the way it went with the meal. What just hap­pened? I won­dered as we left. The next morn­ing, the expe­ri­ence still embed­ded in my mind, we went back to the restau­rant so I could write down the name of the wine. 

I start­ed tak­ing wine class­es, first recre­ation­al­ly, then stu­dious­ly. I went to tast­ings, net­worked, and tried to fig­ure out my place in an indus­try where every­one seemed to know so much more than me. My biggest cham­pi­on was the one who bare­ly drank: my mom. In true Mom fash­ion, she would cut out any arti­cles per­tain­ing to wine from the news­pa­per and send them to me. Dur­ing one trip to vis­it her, she request­ed a buy­ing trip to Total Wine so she could have bot­tles on hand for when friends came over. She was proud of her lit­tle col­lec­tion — although I should have done a bet­ter job advis­ing her to keep them out of Florida’s direct and pun­ish­ing sun­shine, as evi­denced by the brown liq­uid I saw upon my next trip. But she nur­tured this inter­est as it devel­oped from hob­by to career, nev­er doubt­ing that I could do it.

Today, I live mere blocks away from what used to be Schapiro’s Wine Com­pa­ny, a promi­nent kosher wine pro­duc­er dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, it sold its sweet fer­ment­ed kosher drink through the front door and boot­legged alco­hol out the back. Accord­ing to a 1996 pro­file in The New York Times, Schapiro’s was still sell­ing the denizens of the Low­er East Side its wine for their hol­i­day gath­er­ings before final­ly clos­ing at some point around the turn of the mil­len­nia. As I’ve got­ten old­er, wine is now a reg­u­lar pres­ence in my own home. Come sev­en o’clock on any giv­en night, either my hus­band or I will turn to the oth­er and say, Do you want to open some­thing?” It’s a cue to put away what­ev­er we’re doing at the moment; more than pick­ing out a bot­tle, it’s a sig­nal to start wind­ing down our day and con­nect to each oth­er. Per­haps we’ll grab a sam­ple sent to us by a win­ery for eval­u­a­tion. Or, while rum­mag­ing through our wine cel­lar, we’ll pull out a bot­tle we brought home from a trip, and open up a memory. 

My mom has nev­er been able to explain the tem­per­ance of our house­hold. We just didn’t think to have wine,” she would shrug,the best expla­na­tion she could offer. Wine has become a con­nec­tor for us. Even today, she calls me to tell me she tried a nice Pinot Gri­gio, stretch­ing out the vow­els like taffy, and I feel her love through the phone. Although wine was not part of my past, it was a part of my his­to­ry. And now, it keeps me firm­ly in the present moment with those I care about the most. 

Shana Clarke is the author of 150 Vine­yards You Need To Vis­it Before You Die. Find it on book​shop​.org, bar​ne​sand​no​ble​.com, or Ama­zon.

She is a New York City-based wine, sake, and trav­el writer whose work has appeared in For­tune, Wine Enthu­si­ast, Saveur, and NPR, among oth­ers. She was short­list­ed for the Louis Roed­er­er 2020 Inter­na­tion­al Wine Writ­ers’ Awards and ranked one of the Top 20 U.S. Wine Writ­ers That Winer­ies Can Work With” by Bev­er­age Trade Net­work in 2021. She holds a Lev­el 3‑Advanced Cer­tifi­cate from Wine & Spir­it Edu­ca­tion Trust and is a Cer­ti­fied Sake Som­me­li­er. Fol­low her on @shanaspeakswine.