Life like wine

I like to look at that last bottle of my mother's wine every now and then.

Our childhood Christmases were home-made wonders, created from scratch by our resourceful, tireless mother.

Mum gave the term ‘differently - abled’ a whole new spin, being adept at doing many different things, all at the same time, wonderfully well. Nothing filled her with as great a sense of achievement and fulfilment than her own homemade Christmas wine. Had she known of John Keats’ famed “beaker full of the warm south”, she would have brushed it off with a condescending ‘tchah’ and offered him a glass full of hers instead.

Our Christmas guests, sheepishly tipsy after a reckless second or third glass of Mum’s special, would demand the recipe, and Mum would launch passionately into the details.
Deep in the cool, dark recesses of a corner cabinet in my kitchen, sits a bottle of Mum’s wine, made by me that last Christmas of her life.

Weakened by age and illness but lazer sharp of mind, she lay on her bed, directing me as I undertook, for the very first time, this sacred Christmas ritual. I tremblingly washed and crushed the grapes, and added the raisins, sugar, wheat and yeast into the big stone wine jars. At last, it was all done. I was afraid that I might have goofed up somehow, despite Mum’s careful guidance.

“The wine is calling to you,” she would say with a smile, as the heady fragrance of fast-fermenting grapes filled the house. I would stir the frothing, rosy contents of each of the jars with a wooden spoon, sniffing the growing bouquet with trepidation, praying that the end result would match my mother’s exacting standards.

Come distilling day, and Mum actually got out of bed to sit at the dining table - watching, cautioning, encouraging and sometimes clicking her tongue in impatience at my clumsiness - as I went about the tedious business of sterilising and air drying the bottles, siphoning and straining the now deep red extract through muslin, watching, “with patient look...the last oozings, hours by hours”. A final dash of burnt sugar to deepen the blush and I stood back to admire sixteen tall bottles of sparkling ruby wine, “beaded bubbles winking at the brim”, as lovely to behold as Keats’ “blushful Hippocrene”.

I offered Mum a taste. She closed her eyes and held her first sip of my first  wine on her seasoned, knowing tongue. And then she mouthed the single word which transformed the trials of the last two weeks into a personal triumph for me. I like to look at that last bottle of my mother’s wine every now and then; to uncork and sniff its ageing bouquet, to hold it to the light and marvel at its jewelled hue.

To remember with love the woman who guided me in its brewing, in a final labour of love; she, whose entire life had been poured out, for me, for all of us, in a sacred libation of devoted service, at Christmas and always, like an endless, sparkling river of rich, ruby red wine.

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