Singled Out

We were chatting about wine festivals, my friend Anna Goehring and I. She's in the wine business as the marketing director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, but this was just about fun.

We agreed we like the atmosphere – casual, culinary, usually in nice places, always a sense of abundance – and we surely liked the wine and food. But as someone who goes to a lot of those as both a pro and a fan, Anna had another thought.

She was saying that she's coming with some girlfriends to the California Grape & Gourmet event July 9 because they like the range of medal-winning wines and the whole event, but she had what amounted to a complaint about all the wine festivals.

"You know," she said, "we are always surprised that we never see many single guys at them. We're thinking we have to start going to brewfests."

Time out. We need to do some explaining here. We're taking a bit of a stroll here. No one is saying we've got anything vital or important or even accurate. There's no scientific evidence, no announcement of trends, no declaration of gender, class, or, I dunno, height and eye-color affecting behavior. This is just friends talking.

But Anna and her pals do see something in the social world around wine that is echoed by lots of pros in the business. They say wine events, wine bars and gatherings, the whole wide culture of wine, is a safe, welcoming place for women. And, it seems to them, men haven't exactly caught on to this.

No less an authority than Karen MacNeil, the author of "The Wine Bible" and chairman of Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, agrees with the general notion.

"If you're saying, 'Guys, here's where you need to be,' I do agree," MacNeil said when I told her about this theory. "At wine events or wine bars, you're not slugging back martinis and getting drunk. You usually take a lot more time to drink wine, and you can have a conversation.

"Wine in a certain, purely feminine way, is a safer social pursuit. It's lower alcohol, it's easier on the body, it is very social and it's very intellectual. If you don't meet anyone, at least you have the wine."

A few days after that first chat, I got together with Anna and a couple of her friends over, of course, a glass of wine to hear more about this. They were cheered to know MacNeil is with them.

"It really is the whole 'safe' factor," Anna said. "It's so easy to talk to somebody at one of these events. 'What are you drinking? Who was pouring it?' You don't have to hear pickup lines. We're all divorced, we're all learning how to do this again."

For the record, Anna and her friend Lori Wagner are in their 40s. Lori is an investment adviser. Karli Edson is in her 30s and she's a mail carrier. They are active, fit, very nice, very cool people, and they all, you know, look fabulous. I think I need to throw that in. They also hang out together a lot and travel to wine festivals with a big group of women friends.

"First it's about friendship, then it's about wine, then it's about opportunity," Lori said. "We are always out in groups, and we're looking for those groups of single men."

"We know there are men totally into wine," Karli said. "Where are they at these things?"

"You can learn a lot about a person at those wine festivals," Anna said. "Are they social? Are they interesting? Are they interested in other people?"

To be clear, I asked if they were saying they want men to, uh, hit on them at a wine event?

"Not exactly," Anna said.

"Yes," said Lori, "but in the nicest possible way."

"We just want guys to be kind and genuine. And funny," Anna said. "It also helps if they have a job."

They all said they think a wine festival is a good date idea, too, for all the reasons it's a great place to hang out. Plus it's a big, safe public setting, there's lots to explore, and you can always leave.

"I think it's a perfect first date," Lori said. "As opposed to the demolition derby Anna got taken to."

"On a first date," Karli said, "I really don't want to eat a full meal. And no one wants to be trapped at a table if it's not going so well."

You get the drift of this. If there is any equation, we all agreed, it goes like this: More single women tend to go to events in groups than men do (unless, possibly, it's a previously mentioned brewfest).

Wine festivals in particular are comfortable places for women in those groups. Single guys don't show up in same numbers at wine festivals as single women do.

Guys, what is wrong with you?

Anna puts a gentler spin on it.

"We're hardworking and busy, and we just want to meet a nice person, so where else do we go?" she asked.

Lori is more direct. "Tell people we're going to be at Grape & Gourmet."