today I watched you being brought into the light of day.
I held your mother's hand, the two of us utterly spent by long sleepless nights and too much worrying. But I held her hand in that operating theatre, managing a wane grin under the surgical mask, and promised her with my eyes that everything was going to be ok. It was a hope, a prayer, and I dreaded that I was making a promise I couldn't keep.
But out you came, "safe and sound" as your older sister likes to sing. You won't know that song - it will be many many years until you read this letter and by then much will have been forgotten... Canada won Gold today at the Sochi Olympics, but you may never read about it: how the Women's Hockey team fueled national pride and a curler carved a niche for herself in history. You may, however, hear more then once about how your grandpa Pecora drove 13 hours through the snow, across the high mountain passes, so that he could see you today.
One of the few times I've ever seen that man moved to silence. Because you were so still, so peaceful, and so very beautiful if you don't mind your Dad being effusive. But how could I not be? Your older sister is the sparkle in my eye, and the very breath of life, but today I found my heart breaking because it had split to make room for even more Love. I tell you truthfully son, that you will never know the boundaries of your heart until you have children and only then will you learn that there are no boundaries when it comes to Love. There is only more.
And now the point of this letter: to give you a gift on this, your very first birthday. The gift I choose is, as my father would say, the most dangerous of all gifts: advice. And as is my want, the advice comes in the form of a parable or a story, about wine - or in this case a spirit.
Marcel Trepout 1968 Armagnac
... aromas that blend and intertwine so seductively as to make the word "bouquet" utterly inept: salt-water toffee, white truffle shavings, a cacophony of Summer flowers melding into potpourri with fresh peaches/nectarines/pears and hints of wild thyme/bay leaf/sage/lavender growing on the hills
... on the palate lively acids dance across the palate in a bewildering pattern of tap/jazz/ballet, the myriad of aromas translating with precision to this new medium. I can taste the pears ripening nearby, and the wild herbs in the garden. I can sense the rich minerality in the soil and the sheer weight of the years it spent in barrel whilst it transformed from simple fortified spirit to sublime creature.
You see Adam, much of life can be compared to how you choose what you drink and thus my advice (advice I follow myself, which is a rarity) is drink half as much but twice as good... Drinking cheap wines and spirits to excess is like doing anything to excess: temporarily satisfying, it will leave a lasting impression on you and those you are with that is anything but positive.
I bought this bottle of Armagnac in 2008, or maybe 2009. I've held onto it for those five years plus, rationing it out to moments of triumph and only the best of friends. It's been more then a treat to me, it's been a celebration and as your grandpa Gillese taught me "Don't save your special bottles for special occasions, use them - to create special occasions!"
With this bottle I celebrated your mother agreeing to be my wife, I cherished the start of my new writing career and raised a glass when we found out that we were expecting your sister: our first child. And now I'm polishing it off with the feeling of your tiny hand still clutching my finger as you slept on my chest and I'm thanking god for all the riches in my life. Was it worth the price? The extra cost? Couldn't I have appreciated the moments just as much without the brandy?
Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. Not all people are the same and I don't claim to be most people: I don't eat McDonald's, I don't drink Coke and I don't celebrate life with water. I celebrate with wine because wine, to me, is a celebration of life in itself.
Armagnac isn't as prestigious as Cognac; for every 6 bottles of Armagnac sold, 100 bottles of the other are. It's far more fashionable to buy Cognac, I know that. But wouldn't I be just the same then as those people who eat McDonald's and drink Coke? Isn't it preferable to do our own research, come to our own conclusions, and have our own sense of taste? Armagnac is one of the oldest centres for spirit production in Europe and was making brandy 200 years before Cognac was and you know that I believe "practice makes perfect".
Half as much, twice as good.
I like that I can stand behind the producers of Armagnac; small, family-run businesses that are passed down generation to generation with a genuine appreciation for the land. Quality-control isn't a motto here, it's a way of life that has ingrained itself into the collective psyche... you'll sense it in the markets and feel it when you walk into a patissiere and walk out with a fresh baguette. In some cultures, quality is still more highly prized then quantity and this is one of them.
If I were to make brandy, I would want - I would need to make something that I would be proud of. It's no less when I'm drinking: I'ld much rather one glass of something brilliant then two glass of mediocrity that leave a hollow feeling and make me hungry for more. Don't kiss two girls! I waited a long time to marry so that I could marry the most beautiful, the strongest, the most self-less woman I had ever met. Don't waste your time in dead-end jobs where you sell your soul each time you punch the clock! Let yourself work hard at your passion... when the quality is there, the money will come. I promise you!
This is a fleet and fragile thing we call life, Adam. Far too short to do anything but choose the best men you know as your friends, find a woman who makes your heart sing and never be too scared to tell her how you feel, and, when you drink - drink well!