From solitude to the communal & sacred

Robin Shreeves
Jul 18, 2016 · 5 min read

I believed when the time was right to say something about this publicly, I would somehow know it, feel it. When I saw this month’s topic was Solitude for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge from The Drunken Cyclist, I realized the time was right. This is my first time participating in the challenge, and it seems like a fitting start.

Like so many others who have found that forever is a lot shorter than they thought it would be, my life has gone somehwere I never imagined it would go. I had plans. They fell apart. Then I fell apart and almost let solitude get the best of me. With a lot of help, I slowly pulled myself back together and made new plans. Many of those plans formed while sharing wine, sharing life, with people who may never know the impact of our shared experience on my survival.

Let me explain.

Yesterday was my 23rd wedding anniversary. I will not see a 24th. Papers have been filed. Custody agreements have been finalized. Some other details still need to be agreed upon, but there is no doubt, I will not see a 24th anniversary.

Separation happened over three years ago. At first, one of the things that made the reality of separation glaringly obvious was opening a bottle of wine in solitude after sharing bottles with the same person for years and years.

There are many things I love about wine, and the fact that wine is communal sits at the top of the list. I believe sharing a bottle with another person can be a bit sacred because it opens up an opportunity to share life. When I contributed a few pieces to the Blue Collar Wine Guide here on Medium last fall, I wrote about a dinner at a BYO I had with my niece and a bottle of wine we shared.

“The wine may have cost only $8, but the experience we had as we ate, drank and caught up on life was priceless,” I wrote.

Sharing life with others is sacred to me.

There was a very short time, though, when I treated a bottle of wine not as communal or sacred, but as something very different.

Those first few bottles of wine I opened after the heart stomping separation went down far too quickly on nights when my boys went to sleep at their father’s. Wine could have done me in if I had let numbing the pain 750ml at a time become a habit. Instead, wine, along with wine community and writing, has been one of the things that has saved me.

I don’t know exactly how many bottles I drank in solitude, but it wasn’t more than a handful or two. Then one Wednesday evening, when I went to open a bottle to drink alone, I realized what I really needed was to figure out how to be okay with the new, frequent solitude in my home instead of trying to forget it existed. Staying home and wallowing in it was not the way to do it.

I made my way to a recently opened restaurant and sat down at the bar, in solitude. But not for long. While deciding what glass of wine to order, I struck up a conversation with the bartender. We quickly formed the type of bartender/patron relationship you always hope to find at a bar, but rarely do. For the next many months, I sat on my side of the bar drinking wine, and he stood on his side pouring wine — the sacred and communal reappearing in my life.

Around the same time, an unexpected invitation appeared that also reminded me of the sacred and communal character of wine, an invitation to tour California wine country. My articles about sustainable wines for Mother Nature Network caught a PR company’s attention, and I spent a week traveling up and down the California coast, meeting with sustainable directors of wineries, dining with winemakers, interviewing chefs and chatting with tasting room employees.

I went on the trip in solitude, but I was never alone for long that week. The experiences I had with these people — always over a glass or bottle of wine — planted the seed for the idea that I might someday want to be a wine writer who tells stories about wine and wine people instead of a sustainability writer who writes about wine from time to time. It would be another couple years before that seed germinated to a full fledged idea and plan.

That plan formed last fall after I returned from another wine trip, where I was invited along with wine professionals all over the world to Ferrari Winery in Italy. I went there expecting to learn the sparkling winemaker’s sustainable story, and I did.

So much more happened on that trip, though. I realized that every time I’m with wine people, I feel like I’m at home. Halfway around the world, with a group of people I had never met before (and being low man on the totem pole in wine knowledge to boot) I knew I belonged there.

I returned to New Jersey and made the decision to shift my writing focus. I gave myself five years to transition solely to writing about wine — from all angles. This blog was the start of that.

Today, I received my first check in the mail for a wine column that will debut in the Courier Post newspaper in a few weeks. Each Sunday, I’ll write about the New Jersey wine region, inviting others to discover the communal and sacred that comes from the vineyards of the Garden State. It will be my privilege to educate the paper’s readers about the growing wine community in our state, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the focus of my first dedicated wine writing job.

As far as the solitude that happens in my home every time my boys aren’t here, I’d be lying if I said I’ve learned to love it. But, I have learned to be okay with it, no numbing necessary.


Wine from all angles

Always learning

Wine from all angles

Always learning

Robin Shreeves

Written by

Wine columnist for the Courier Post newspaper and food, drink, travel and environmental journalist

Wine from all angles

Always learning