This not about Washington wine but the universal pairing of friends and wine. Wine is a memory maker, elevating peak experiences into an indelible image that imprints itself onto one’s soul. Being friends with Gil Rieben was a peak experience and the wine we shared over the years served as the ink,writing our tale of friendship.
Wine is a living thing, used in rituals to celebrate life and acknowledge death. You could say dying introduced me to Gil Rieben but that only tells part of the story. Our paths intersected when our beloved teacher Chester Mainard was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I started commuting between Seattle and Oakland to be part of the Chester Care team with Gil. Although confronted with impossible odds, Chester insisted on living fully, even as he was dying. For Chester, a big part of living was communing with friends over food. Gil and JD brought over dinners: food to feed the body, laughter to feed the soul and wine to help us celebrate making it through another day, no matter how tough it might have been. It doesn’t take a $50 bottle of wine to create a cherished moment. A magnum of Century Cellars from the grocery store with Gil’s chicken was a feast for friends. It was all about friends for Gil and he instilled that into every morsel that he prepared.
After Chester had passed, our friendship grew and I got to revel in the hospitality of Gil and JD. During the cooler months, it meant sipping wine and nibbling on cheese in the sun room, in hopes of getting a glimpse of the bay. In the summer, it meant helping to make the fresh guacamole before happy hour on the deck. It meant getting the umbrella up and the Chardonnay chilled in time for the neighbors, as they came home from work. Regardless of the season, the celebration of wine, food and friends was the constant.
Two years ago, Ed and I went to Oakland to spend time with Gil and JD. That time was full of winery visits, vineyard tours and just hanging out on the deck. We had a great time at winery visits to St Supery and Bouchaine Vineyards. We were given the red carpet treatment at both wineries that included personal attention, special tastings and tours. We rewarded that excellent service and wine by filling the car with cases of wine.
Gil and I celebrate our birthdays together when we can. He knew me well enough to know that my birthday made me depressed but that creating a special dinner for him, would make me feel special as well. I cooked him a birthday dinner whenever I was in California in August. I took great pleasure in banishing Gil from his kitchen to make his birthday dinner. The celebration began as soon as JD got off work at 3pm and went on long into the night. I don’t remember everything we ate that night but I do remember figuring out a way to make duck in cherry sauce that even the “duck averse” enjoyed. I remember that we ate and ate until we could have benefited from cranes to help us get out of the dining room chairs.
I remember the four of us drinking eight bottles of wine on 8/24/09 and finishing them off. We drank wine that we had be saving just for them like a bottle of Smooth Jazz Cabernet from Icicle Ridge Winery. We brought that bottle of wine because Ed and I had enjoyed so many wonderful Under the Tuscan Moon dinners at the Log House there, we wanted to bring some of that to Gil and JD. They shared treasures from their wine cellar and we opened some of the wines that we had bought on our winery visits. It was an evening full of food, fun, wine and most importantly friends!
As our habit, Gil and I stayed up long after everyone else had gone to bed, snuggled up together on the couch drinking red wine and listening to the classics like Pink Floyd. Those late night hours over the years, entwined on the couch telling secrets or just listening to the music are some of my fondest memories of Gil.
Gil Rieben died on May 5, 2011. I was unaware of his amazingly brief bout with cancer until hours after his death. We had stocked up on some more Gil and JD wines for our next visit. We had been pondering on purchasing 1999 Col Solare, wondering if it would peak before we could see them again. I never dreamed that Gil would die before the wine. Since the news of his death, I have wanted to make tribute to him here because he was such a supporter not only of food and wine, but of me as a person. As much as I thought about it I couldn’t start it until I went to Oakland for his memorial June 11th. I sat in their sun room and started writing but I couldn’t finish it.
Last night I gathered some of my Seattle wine friends to eat and drink in celebration of wine and friendship, in honor of Gil. It was an evening of great food, lovingly prepared by friends. We feasted on the likes of Crab PLT sandwiches, grilled salmon, shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta, grilled eggplant pesto sandwiches and apple crumble. We opened wine and beer that we been holding on to, to share with friends.
The night was clear, the conversations were lively and the jokes unprintable. Gil would have especially appreciated Ed and Lenny’s unique perspective on wine pairing options. Laughter ruled the night. It was a fitting tribute to my friend, bringing friends and family together to enjoy each other and food and wine (and beer)!
Happy Birthday Gil!
P.S. We would love to hear stories about your own wine and friend pairings.