2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

We Are Defined Not By Our Clothes But by Our Ability to Face the Challenge of Free Wine Head‑On

We Are Defined Not By Our Clothes But by Our Ability to Face the Challenge of Free Wine Head‑On

Wine in Okinawa

The whole thing reminds me of a college formal, or a high-school prom after the adults have slipped outside for a smoke.

Welcome to hour five of Okinapa, Okinawa’s (and the Marine Corps’) “premiere wine-tasting, culinary and educational event,” held annually since 1997. Sommeliers line the walls of the Butler Officer’s Club, while in the center chefs are preparing crepes, pasta, and Okinawan cuisine, placing way too much food onto slippery plastic plates with a handy slot for our monogrammed wine glasses. They work you up to expensive bottles, conveniently available for purchase out in the lobby, and, for those unsatisfied with an endless supply of wine, there is a cash bar with a suspiciously long line.

From the start I’m out of place. Earlier that week I arrived in Okinawa to visit a friend stationed there and I have to borrow a shirt of his just to pass the “casually elegant” dress code, but between my physique and my scruff and the dirt on my sneakers I could not fit in any less with the toned, tanned men in three-piece suits and matching pocket squares. When I see a man with a Polo-branded t-shirt and jeans, I want to shake his hand. When another arrives with a ponytail and a full beard, I almost give him a high five.

As the night edges on and I slip into my wine-drunk, sleepy-eyed mode, things get stranger. The claws melt off the ice dragons, but the selfies do not stop. An American on drums leads an extremely smooth group of Okinawans in Kenny G-style fusion. A woman leans over from her table and pours my half-full glass to the top with a very, very different wine. Two officers fret over a Snapchat. I eat fried ravioli with chopsticks.

By the end, two spouses smash their monogrammed glasses while climbing up onto a giant tortoise. And as the Okinawan staff head home and we wait for a taxi, I have the ridiculous thought that maybe, beyond my clothes and my politics, I’m not all that different from these men and women out of uniform. After all, when presented with the challenge of this much gratis wine, we just buckled down and drank the place dry.

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