I started drinking alcohol while at university during my first year. I used to drink vodka (because my dad did) gimlets while playing cards, beer while playing softball, bowling and other activities, and wine when we had nothing else. My first 'wines' were not wines at all per se, but homemade concoctions my father and brother used to whip up with sugar and some flavoring. Therefore, we had an assortment of flavored wines including apple, orange, dandelion, potato (which I think was just vodka under another name!), and others.
My dad and brother made this wine over several years until the cost of sugar rose too high. I also think they got tired of cleaning up after numerous bottles exploded because they did not really understand the fermenting process! I would then bring these wines to university to drink as required. The 'Shipley Vineyard' classic was a bottle of the 1971 Oragneato. My dad had some leftover Orange wine and leftover Potato wine, mixed them together, fortified it with a bottle of 100 proof vodka and bottled up four bottles. The only remaining bottle in existence, sits in my friend's wine cellar next to his prized Nepalese Plum wine!
We also used to buy Boone's Farm wine, a low-level brand within the E & J Gallo Winery (my God, how bad it must have been to be considered the bottom of the Gallo wine tree!). It came in Apple and Strawberry flavors and cost about $0.93 per 750 ml bottle.
The point of my wine (and other drinking) during university was to get inebriated on alcohol, not to enjoy the flavor of the wine or the experience of wine drinking with friends - we were just getting bombed! It was not until I entered graduate school at the University of Minnesota that I started to drink real wine. I am not sure why or how, but I assume some friend introduced me to wine drinking and I felt it a pleasurable things to do with a meal or while studying or being involved in other activities. Fortunately, there was a wonderful wine store near the University campus called Surdyk's. I did not realize and certainly was not in a position to discern what a great wine store Surdyk's was at the time.
The people were really helpful and friendly, provided great advice on wine, and steered me towards very good valued wines. This was during the time when Chili was just emerging on the global wine scene and I was able to find some great Chilean reds for $3 - $5 per bottle. I also was told by one of the staff to buy some of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port and I got two bottles. I had one bottle several years ago and it was beyond superb. I am pretty sure I paid only about $12 - $15 per bottle for it then, and it was one of the great buys in my life! That was just the type of place Surdyk's is. That whole experience changed my life and I started to experiment more with wines, pay a bit more and start to enjoy it more.
Therefore, it was visiting and getting help at Surdyk's that got me on the journey to finer wine drinking. Last year, my wife and I were visiting Minnesota again to see my parents and I went by Surdyk's. It looked and felt the same and I told some of the staff how much I appreciated their help some 35 years ago and what a great store it still is. They also introduced me during that trip to the 2009 Hugel Alsace Riesling for $22 in the US which is an outstanding value. I have since bought a dozen in Australia (where it was $30 per bottle) and it is a great, great Riesling.
In my next post, I will explain how my 'fallow' years as a wine drinker, but how I was introduced to several great wines which provided a true appreciation for how great an experience wine drinking can be, and how I became a real wine enthusiast while living in Australia, one of the great wine countries of the world!