A few months ago, the manuscript for a soon-to-be published book arrived in the mail. The first sentence was: This is the story of how wine brought me back from the dead. With a sentence like that, you have to start reading. I’d never heard of the author—Adam S. McHugh—and as far as I knew, he wasn’t a wine writer. But for the next 250 pages, McHugh had me glued to his story.
Adam McHugh is an ordained Presbyterian minister. When he was still in the ministry in Southern California, his area of expertise was hospice—he sat with and consoled people who were dying. McHugh worked the unfortunately named “graveyard shift.” If the person had just died before he could be bedside, McHugh would sit with the family on what were called “death visits.” He slept with a beeper. As he notes in the first chapter, in Los Angeles, people who respond to beepers in the middle of the night are usually drug dealers.
And so begins the unwinding of McHugh’s extraordinary story—the unwinding of McHugh himself. After a night comforting a dying person, he takes to sleeping in a fetal position on the couch. Some lonely nights he haunts drive-thru restaurants desperate for a morsel of humanity. His marriage grows rocky. Wine becomes his ballast. Between “appointments,” he reads back issues of the Wine Spectator. He writes that sometimes “knowing that a half bottle of Chablis was at home was enough to get me through a day of watching people die.”
McHugh trudges through the disorienting, forlorn fog of his work as a chaplain. One morning, his boss unexpectedly calls him into a conference room and lays him off. McHugh’s life dissolves in front of him. That night a bottle of Stags’ Leap Cabernet is the only thing he can face.
And so begin McHugh’s tentative steps to becoming a man concerned more with living than dying. In an attempt to rescue his marriage and because he adores wine, he and his wife take a vacation to France. Anyone who remembers their first experiences in Paris and French wine country will delight in McHugh’s glee and gratitude as he eats and drinks his way toward his own salvation. After France, there is no going back to dark-night ministry in the City of Light. McHugh finds himself drawn to the serenity of Santa Barbara’s vineyards. Once the consoler, he is now the consoled. The soulfulness of Pinot Noir is as nurturing as a prayer.
I won’t tell the rest of the story here, except to say that as the plot unfolds, McHugh’s insights into wine—sometimes serious, sometimes so funny you’ll laugh out loud—are thoroughly engaging. His is a singular kind of wine writing: Deeply personal. Rich with humanity. Uplifting.
Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead (InterVarsity Press 2022) is a book every wine lover will relish.