Thinking Outside the Bottle

I have friends who drink boxed wine exclusively. They live in a trailer, but it’s not what it sounds like: Jeff and Vicky track mountain lions as part of a joint state-federal effort to save the nearly extinct Sierra bighorn, a species of wild sheep. These sheep survive only in a few isolated canyons on the magnificent eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, and Jeff and Vicky have the job of keeping mountain lions from eating them. As a result, they wake up six days a week at around 3 a.m., load their mules and dogs into a truck, and start driving the remote dirt roads, looking for lion tracks. If they find some, and if the tracks come from a lion they haven’t yet fitted with a radio tracking collar, they park the truck and spend the rest of the day on a wild chase in rough, dry canyons. On a perfect day, they tree the lion by midday, tranquilize it, collar it, and head back to the truck. If it’s summertime, home is a camp trailer—a tiny little towable deal, not a double-wide—parked way out a dirt road, past a locked gate, in a Hollywood-ready aspen grove at the base of enormous mountains.

It makes sense, for all the usual boxed-wine reasons: The box takes up far less space than a bottle, it’s relatively cheaper, and it lasts far longer once opened. If you live in a trailer way off the grid, all these things matter a lot. Jeff also isn’t much of a stickler for wine quality: His first career was as a bareback bronco rider on the pro rodeo circuit; then he made it as a freelance fur trapper for about 10 years. Born to libertarian ranchers, he remains a libertarian rancher at heart; but he’s also heard that wine’s good for you, and he’s discovered that he loves a glass of red with a few ice cubes and a little water at the end of a long day. And you know what? I do, too, at least when I have the privilege of sharing it with Jeff and Vicky. Because there can’t be a prettier mountain setting on Earth than that aspen grove, with a big, clean, willow-lined creek rolling right out of the high country and right beyond their trailer, keeping a soft breeze always blowing, a fresh smell always in the air, and a peaceful white noise gurgling behind the braying of the mules and the howling of Jeff’s dozen or so lion hounds. I love that guy—he’s been a dear friend to me—and I love drinking boxed red wine over ice with him in the lawn chairs by the fire pit, while he grills a chuck steak and Vicky talks about whatever Civil War book she’s reading at the moment. Wine, like everything in life, is all about context.

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