“Wine is that civilising influence; that little respite in all the places you visit. It’s a chance to reflect with people, or tell the stories when you get back – it’s the living part of the bottle,” says David Gray of CBC radio’s The Eyeopener.
Moving from Ontario to Calgary as a youngster, Gray was smitten with the Rockies since his first glimpse, working in the mountains through university as a park naturalist and ranger.
“I fell in love with the mountains and fell in love with adventure,” he explains. “That’s really the foundation of everything I’ve ever done since. I became a journalist largely because I got hooked on adventure.”
A degree in history and political science in Calgary led to a masters in journalism at the University of Western Ontario, but for Gray it was a means to an end – he was offered a job at CBC with The National before he’d even finished his thesis.
“I got lucky,” he says. “I got break after break. I came back to Calgary and became a Ledge reporter in Edmonton, then I landed a job in Toronto as a travelling correspondent with Venture, and lived on an aeroplane for six or seven years.”
Gray worked on documentaries in Europe, the US and in the Middle East – he was with Ralph Klein when he met Yasser Arafat in Gaza – before returning to Calgary to open Venture’s western bureau, and subsequently a job hosting CBC’s Newsworld before switching to radio.
So what bottle is Gray saving for a special occasion, and why?
“I was in Lebanon in the Bekaar Valley which, as it turns out, is wine country. Sixteen-year-olds with AK-47s wearing helmets two or three sizes too big, would open the van door and count you off with their guns at checkpoints, just to intimidate you,” he says. “It was crazy times with war torn countryside, but what struck me is they’ve been creating wine since the Roman times in that area.”
A Calgary businessman took him into the mountains behind Beirut to see a better side of Lebanon.
“You find restaurants built into the sides of mountains,” Gray explains. “You park outside and walk through giant caves with waterfalls in them, and there’s beautiful terraces at the edges of cliffs that look out on the Mediterranean – it’s spectacular. We had one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life; they would bring dish after dish, with different wines, and one of them, of course, was a Lebanese wine – I think Chateau Musar, which is the one I’ve chosen today.”
“Wine for me has always been people, place and time,” he continues. “My greatest wine experience was with my wife on our honeymoon in Paris, just buying something at the local store and going down to the river, pulling the cork out with our teeth and drinking it there. I don’t care what anybody says, any wine that you carry in a backpack into a back country cabin is going to taste so much better that evening than anything you’re going to find in the finest hotel.”
And when might Gray think of opening the wine?
He laughs, and says he’d love to repay the businessman who took him to that dinner with a bottle of wine, but adds, “I’d open it with Don Martin (who was writing for the Herald at the time) if he was in town, as he was on that trip as well, and we’d talk about old times.”
“Or I would wait for an evening with old colleagues – journalists with war stories to tell – and open up the bottle and swap stories with them.”