On Reclaiming Boxed Wine and Rethinking Mommy Wine Culture

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I had an epiphany today. I always thought that boxed wine was mom wine, like late 90s-early 00s mom wine because that was what was in my friends’ parents’ fridges when I was growing up. Granted, there are actual good wines that come in boxes now but I still don’t buy a lot of boxed wines generally-- it always felt like a commitment and I’m a bit of a wild card! Cut to my new life as a mother of a NICU baby (more on this soon, I promise) and my tiny bit of adult time is the the hour or two I spend at home before I go to bed during which I watch reality TV and drink a glass (or occasionally two) of wine. Well, for the first time in my life I was having the issue of all of the wine going bad before I could finish it. I switched from bottles to cans but I still couldn’t finish the damn things in one sitting and in my husband’s words “the most depressing sound is pouring wine down the drain”. Then I remembered that boxed wine existed and it was like Dionysus himself had smiled down on me. And then I realized, maybe this is why all of my friends’ moms drank boxed wine; they were too busy and stressed from keeping a GD human alive to have more than a glass or two at a time. Also, you can’t exactly get drunk and take care of a kid (or you shouldn’t, probably). Then again, it was probably Franzia and they probably just had bad taste in wine and just needed something to survive motherhood. NO JUDGMENT.

Boxed wine has come a long way since I first saw it in my friends’ fridges 20+ years ago and even a long way since the next time I saw it-- in college. While I didn’t know anything about wine when I was in college, I thought I knew enough to avoid all boxed wine because it was shit (which was fair because at the time, it was essentially all Franzia). Funnily enough, the bottles I was drinking weren’t much better at all, but I was operating under the all too common notion that all boxed wine is massed produced and terrible. It’s not! I didn’t actually learn this until I started regularly purchasing wine from a wine shop and noticed they had boxes of wine. When I had learned a little bit about wine and asked about it, I was shocked to hear that there are incredible wineries and winemakers putting their wines in boxes.

So why boxed wine? Well, aside from the obvious things like, it lasts longer and it’s more economical, there are additional benefits. If you’re not an evil human, you might care about the fact that it’s better for the environment. Or if you do a lot of entertaining, you might like that you won’t have three bags of recycling the day after your dinner party (if your dinner parties are like mine) but either way, there is quality wine that can be found in boxes— you can even find it on good wine menus, I’m not kidding.

One of my favorites is the Jenny & Francois From the Tank. It comes in a red (blend), a white (Chardonnay) and a rosé (blend). I tend to get the red blend because, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really care about white wine unless it’s sparkling. It’s something I’m working on, but it’s low-priority. ANYWAY, the red is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan and it has all of the hallmarks of a J & F wine-- hand-harvested grapes and natural winemaking techniques all the way. I first tried this wine last spring after I learned that you could actually find good wine in boxes. The great thing about it is that one box contains three liters (over three bottles of wine). Whether or not you are a postpartum lightweight like I am, it is bound to last you a little while and create a lot less waste in the process.

On the nose, this red blend has notes of super delicious blackberry jam, like good artisanal stuff, not Smuckers.It also smells a bit like a berry candy or even fruit gummies. It’s hard for me to pull anything out that doesn’t have to do with berries and this could very well be because I haven’t been drinking wine regularly for 9 months. On the palate it’s tart and a little acidic but goes down so smooth. It has the best qualities of a big, bold red like Syrah but also the best qualities of a medium red like Grenache or Carignan. It would be hard to pick a meal that wouldn’t pair well with this wine. I could see it holding up to a KC Strip or a grilled salmon. I already ate Mexican earlier but I’ll probably have my leftover enchiladas tomorrow night and I bet it will pair nicely with that too!

I kind of joked about the wine my friends’ moms were drinking probably being bad and I know that that’s just probably this gross mommy wine culture we have permeating into my brain. It seems like so many wines and wine-related products (even products for babies and kids) are marketed toward women and moms simply because they are women and moms. If I get another GD ad for a bib that has some joke about how I love to drink wine, I might snap. Sure, I love wine, but my kid’s bib doesn’t need to reflect that. Also, most of the wines that are marketed toward women seem to be pretty crappy (and I’m guessing the marketing is done by men because none of it appeals to me or any women I know) and have everything to do with needing a drink because motherhood is hard and nothing to do with drinking wine because you actually enjoy it.

That’s the sort of fucked up thing about our culture, a lot of people use alcohol as a means to and end and don’t enjoy the process of drinking it. If I am going to spend what little disposable income I have left on an alcoholic beverage, it had better be good! Honestly, I think a lot of this is changing as we see more women winemakers and wine bar/shop owners in the industry. They are proving that you don’t need to have a glittery pink label to sell wine to women, you do need to appeal to their intellect and maybe even sense of humor though. I hope I can be a part of this sea change by supporting women in wine and writing this little blog because, hell, I’m raising a daughter and I will not have her grow up in a world where women feel like they have to drink shitty wine with cutesy labels.Life is too short for misogyny and shitty wine.

Ask for What You Want

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Growing up I was VERY quiet. At 18, I learned that it wasn’t just shyness but an anxiety disorder. Either way, I rarely asked for what I really wanted and therefore often just put up with things I didn’t want, whether in a relationship or at the coffee shop. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I became more outspoken about what I did and didn't like. While this might seem trivial it is incredibly frustrating to constantly keep your opinions to yourself and put up with others’ shitty behavior for the sake of being nice. I think we condition women to think that by speaking out they will seem gruff or bitchy and no one wants to be called a bitch so we remain quiet.

It really wasn’t until the 2016 election that I realized how often outspoken women are demonized and demeaned, particularly by men simply for speaking up about their opinions. That’s when I decided that that was enough. I was going to stop putting up with bullshit mansplaining, whether I was at work or the wine shop (because yes, it has happened in both places as well as many others). I actually stopped going to a certain wine shop in town because I asked for what I wanted (a Pét-Nat) and was given a lecture about how all sparkling wines are Pét-Nats (uh, what?). I’m no somm, but I have a basic knowledge of wine and to be treated like an unknowledgeable consumer was frustrating and insulting.

Anyhow, asking for what you want at a wine shop seems pretty basic, but it’s actually hard for a lot of people, especially if you are just switching from buying your wine at a grocery store to a legit wine shop. It can be real intimidating when you thought you were a high roller when you spent $15 on a bottle. However, go often enough and you’ll develop a rapport with the staff/owner and if they ever make you feel like shit, leave immediately and find a new spot, even if it’s a wine shop in N.Y. or L.A. that will ship to you; no one deserves to be talked down to. Most places are cool though in my experience.  

Going to a legit wine shop, Underdog Wine Co. in K.C., rather than the grocery store for me coincided with the election and thus my deep feminist awakening (I was already quite feminist so post-election was like woah). After a few months of buying my wine there, I felt super comfortable with the staff and the owner. To the point where I said, “hey, I’m getting really into natural wine… can you get more of that?” And they did. I also took a trip last spring to visit my friend, Ursula, in L.A. and had so much good wine-- most of which was natural. As soon as I came back I showed the owner of the wine shop everything I tried, including one particular bottle that was life-changing and I had to have again. It was the j. brix Cobolorum Riesling Pét-Nat. So funky and volatile (see my original review here). I asked the owner if he could get it for me and guess what, he did! Sure, it took some time, but it is here now and it is delightful, as good if not better than I remember and maybe it tastes extra good because I ASKED FOR WHAT I WANTED AND GOT IT.

If you’ve always been outspoken, this post might not resonate with you, but for those of you that have stayed quiet on issues big and small, I hope you can gain some confidence and speak up for what you want, even if it’s just at your wine shop. It’s not always men that talk down to me, but let’s get real, it usually is and for some reason, I have a harder time calling them out than I do women. Here is a quote from Rebecca Solnit that helps me a lot, “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they are talking about. Some men.” So stay strong and ask for what you want, at your wine shop and in life.