Wine and a moment in time: It’s eight o’clock at night, and we’re out of milk. I’m a little drunk from the leftover French wines I’d brought back from the family vacation to Lake Tahoe, so I step into flip-flops and pull on a fleece jacket (a very San Francisco combination) and head into the cool, dark night. As I walk toward the commercial strip, down the block, two gangbanger-looking teenagers come storming out of a house, enraged about something, one chugging a 40-ounce beer. Stepping into the street, the one with the beer smashes the entire huge bottle onto the asphalt and keeps walking. I don’t want to be noticed. I wonder if they’re armed. But I also don’t want to run; they have no interest in me, and I’d like it to stay that way. And now I notice Rupert, a neighbor who works for a major wine distributor, pulling into his driveway; he, too, has doubtless noticed the shattered beer, the boys radiating the potential for violence.

The boys march off in their own drama, followed by a girl calling out to one, pleading, “Why you put on this facade for him? Be yourself! Be yourself!”

The milk run is quick enough, and then I’m back on the bustling city street, alert, but when I turn onto my own dark block, the kids are not there. They’ve moved on, taking their private suffering with them, and Rupert has just finished cleaning the shattered beer bottle from the street. The hatchback door of his SUV is up, and he’s grabbing a case of wine, corks half stuck into the tops; tasting wine all day, perhaps, bringing some back for homework. I stop to say hello, under the faint glow of our weak streetlamps, and we discuss the obvious: the kids. Like middle-class neighbors anywhere, I suppose. And then his wife, Joanna, drives up. She does marketing and media work for Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery, out in the fog and wind of the Sonoma Coast, near the mouth of the lazy Russian River. As she crosses the street—they have a dinner reservation, apparently, at a new place around the corner—she asks Rupert if he was hoping to drink Pinot Noir tonight. Rupert senses where she’s going, and insists that the opened bottle, from the tastings she gave that day, go to me. And so, a moment later, I’m stepping into my own, quiet kitchen with a 2004 Fort Ross Reserve Pinot Noir and a 2006 Fort Ross Rosé. I can hear the girls in the bathtub downstairs, and I can hear my wife making them laugh, and I will absolutely join them for the bath-time fun. But first, first … I pour two glasses and drink. Gorgeous wine, that Pinot Noir, light and integrated and lasting. And the Rosé, too: clear and clean and direct, the way I like Rosé to be. But quickly, now, one more taste of each, one more sniff and slurp and swallow—just enough to marvel an instant at the passing pleasures I can find in the bottle—and it’s time to wrap towels around my wet and giggling girls and get them off to bed.

See more articles