There’s a segment in the old Television version of M*A*S*H when a non-detonated bomb is found near the hospital unit. From his perch in a bunker, the company commander, Colonel Blake, reads directions from a military manual to Hawkeye who has the honor of defusing the bomb. At one point, Blake reads a direction that says to loosen some particular screws and then to remove a certain wire or two. After carefully and gingerly following the directions, Hawkeye succeeds at removing the wires.
Blake reads the next paragraph of the manual and it starts with the words, “But first…” The camera pans to an anxious look on both Hawkeye’s and Blake’s face as they each realize that the order in which the directions were written had placed them in potential danger.
It was a funny moment in the TV series, but it was also an accurate one that illustrated the efficiency of bureaucracy’s mountains of directives and forms. The winery application process is nothing if it isn’t a series of directives and forms (often redundant). At one point, he wasn’t sure anymore whether his name was Nick Lazio or Lazio Nick, as each winery application form seemed to want his name filled in differently.
To be fair, the federal application process wasn’t nearly as onerous as the New York State process; the latter’s forms must have been the model for the M*A*S*H episode. Nick had gotten the federal basic permit to produce and distribute wine two or three months before the state came through with a license. That’s because a series of “but first,” situations created two or three re-application filings with the state.
Nick was aware that the aggravation perpetrated on him by the state was the direct result of Repeal. When the U.S. Congress wrote its mealy sentence into Repeal that gave the states the right to individually regulate alcohol commerce, the law makers not only shot a cannon hole through the Dormant Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8 in the U.S. Constitution, the one that prohibits state protection laws against interstate commerce, the Congress also gave the states a massive boner that was measured in the amount of excise taxes and fees placed on alcohol and in the length of corruption that local control engendered.
When the repeal of prohibition arrived, most states already had in them alcohol distribution networks that had been solidified during Prohibition by bootleggers that state officials knew intimately. It was easy to give some of the bootleggers the new legal business with a promise of state protection, so long as the protected distributors forked over the excise tax revenue stream. It was the kind of sweetheart deal that only a corrupt union official and a greedy corporate management could love, and it was the kind of deal that made the application hurdles that faced startup wineries more than just an annoyance—they were an affront that treated nascent wine producers as criminals. But Nick was prepared for being treated like a criminal by the state. After all, the state was largely expecting from others what it engaged in itself, and state officials surely must know that old adage: there is no honor among thieves.
Still, the sixth century thinking of New York had not killed Nick’s twentieth century passion. While he waited for the state to send him a license that would allow him to be further abused by the Byzantine system, there was work to do in the seven-acre vineyard.
It was early March and vine pruning hadn’t been completed. He tried using local help but found it more work for him. When the locals showed up, which was sporadic at best, they often were hung over. So many times he had to do over some of what they did and to do some of what they passed up. He eventually hired one of his teenage nephews to come up from New York City to work in the vineyard on weekends and during spring break. In between those times, Nick pruned alone, a fact that gave him an intimate relationship with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Despite the application process, the poor local help, and the painful right hand, he was loving the rural life; the contact with snappy, crisp morning air and serene afternoons as he made his way from vine to vine, counting potential buds and snipping away excess. It gave his mind the space and air to think thoughts of working the land and creating from it wine that would please others. He also used the time and rhythm of pruning to compose little stories in his head and even little songs.
One afternoon, he heard a car pull alongside the vineyard. It being a quiet rural afternoon, he heard the driver apply the emergency brake and then the sound of the door opening.
He looked in the direction of the car to see a woman waving at him.
“Hello,” she said. “Can you come over here for a second?”
Nick walked up to the road to meet her. She was quite attractive, even though she seemed about twenty years his senior.
“Just wanted to introduce myself,” the woman said. “I’m Betty, your neighbor up the road.” She pointed to her property located about a quarter of a mile north.
“Thought maybe you’d like to come for some dinner tonight—nothing special. Just a welcome dinner and a get-to-know.”
“Well, that would be nice,” he said. “I’m Nick. What time should I be there? I’ll be alone, as my wife is away.”
“That’s ok. My husband’s working late and so I’ll be alone, too. Seven would be fine.”
She didn’t wait for further confirmation. She opened the car door, climbed back in, yelled, “See you then,” and drove off.
He didn’t remember until after she made the comment about her husband working late that the people who sold him the property had told him about Betty and her reputation for luring younger men into her home and corrupting them.
He thought that his quick acceptance might turn out to be a major mistake, but instead of backing out of the commitment, he figured. “Oh well, maybe there’s more to this rural life than just terroir…”
If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
April 2010. All rights reserved.