Archive for May, 2010

One Romance contd. (15)

Monday, May 31st, 2010

From his back deck, Nick had a view not only of his six acres of grapevines, but also the contiguous 25 acres of his neighbor’s grapevines. Since his arrival in the region, Nick had gotten into the habit of spending great amounts of contemplative time looking out over those vines, for a view that took him right down to the majestic Keuka Lake, the one of eleven Finger Lakes that is immediately identified by its cursive y shape. To call the view spectacular would be like merely calling an orgasm fun—it just doesn’t capture the thrill completely.

When grapevines were dormant, with the posts glistening brightly on a sunny day, the scene reminded Nick of a cemetery, not because vines elicit the thought of death, but because the neatness of the vineyard was like pictures that he had seen of Arlington National Cemetery. At other times, the neatness conjured soldiers standing in perfect formation awaiting their orders.

In spring, especially after a round of suckering that left a long space of naked vine trunks with a puff of new shoots with leaves on them that starts at the low trellis wire the soldiers became the vision of a formation of women in tutus, or a formation of ostriches.

Whether winter or spring and whether the vines were dormant or bursting with life, the natural quiet of the perfect formation gave rise to Nick’s dreams. At six in the evening, after a long, lonely, hard day and then a bite to eat, and into his second glass of wine, he was allowed to dream. He could see every one of the grapes on those vines before they’d grow and he could smell them as a vinous brew that his hands had put together in his two-car garage that he converted into a winery.

While he dreamed on the back deck one evening, the phone rang.

“Hello, Nick. It’s Dieter.”

Dieter and Nick had never met. They were introduced by telephone by a mutual friend of theirs. At the very time that Nick was gearing up to leave New York City for the Finger Lakes, Dieter was leaving Berlin for Tuscany to take charge of his newly purchased winery in Siena.

“Hey, Dieter. How are things going in Italy?”

“Ah, Nick, I have troubles.”

“Dieter, what’s the matter?”

“As soon as I took over this place the American importer dropped the winery from its book. I have no idea how to get an importer in the U.S. Can you help me?”

Nick didn’t know how to get a company to distribute his own wine, let alone one for a Chianti producer.

“Dieter, you may have misunderstood. I am starting a winery, not a…”

Dieter cut him off.

“I know. I know that. But how do you sell your wine? Don’t you know anyone in the wine business?”

“Well, I don’t have wine to sell yet, and the people I know in the wine business are few and none are importers or distributors.”

“Oh, I see. I guess I got all excited. I should not have bothered you.”

“No, Dieter, it’s all right. I know how complicated the wine business can be.”

“Nick, if you think the wine business is complicated you haven’t spent time in Italy. Complicated doesn’t begin to describe what’s it’s like to do business here, or to get anything done at all. It took me six months before I was given a permit to establish my own drinking water in my new home. Here, you must pay someone for the right to have your own drinking water—water does not come with your property. I’ve spent more money on bribes just to have some water than on wine equipment to produce more wine!”

“That’s funny, Dieter—and sad. Isn’t it such a surprise how the romance of wine is no match for reality?”

While Nick spoke to Dieter, a brief thunderstorm passed through the area, one of those five-minute awe-inspiring downpours as the thunder shakes the earth, the lightening threatens un-harnessed power, and the raindrops are as big and as firm as lemons.

The brief storm ended just as Nick said goodbye to Dieter. He went back to gazing from the back deck.

Soon, before him was a rainbow that began at the base of the promontory—Bluff Point—that forms the v portion of the lake’s y shape. The bow arced over the lake and then took a dive right to the water. The multi-colored vision lasted for a good few minutes. In that time, corny as it was, Nick heard Judy Garland singing the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg score.

He believed that the rainbow was a sign.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (14)

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The past few months certainly proved to Nick that the learning curve is steep. He spent much time alternating between hope and despair. It’s difficult to remain committed to a new lifestyle when forces well beyond your control seem to dictate your every waking moment: if it isn’t the weather, it’s the market; if it isn’t the market, it’s the regulations; if it isn’t the regulations, it’s your own damned mistakes that get you.

Nick’s time in John’s cellar frightened him. He wondered whether John had been that cynical when he started his winery or if he grew that way over time. He wondered, but he was truly uninterested in the answer. What good would knowing the answer do for him or for his future winery? The winery would be an extension of him no matter if he changes or remains the same as the day he began the journey. His was either to plug along or to give up.

That evening, at the winemaker dinner one of the winemakers brought with him an intern from Germany who was spending the summer in the Finger Lakes. It was reaffirming to hear a European aspirant winemaker express gratitude for the opportunity to work in a Finger Lakes winery. The intern told the group that since he had arrived a few weeks earlier, he was constantly being surprised and impressed by the quality of local Riesling, a theme that would over the coming years be expressed by many over and over—but this was still years ahead of that time.

As usual, the host and owner of the restaurant, Harold, provided a Pauillac as his offering for the dinner, an unclassified Chateau Fonbadet. It was among the finest reds of the evening. Right up there with the Fonbadet was a Renaissance Vineyard and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, which, when tasted blind, many thought was a Pauillac.

The whites at the table were ok, but none as spectacular as the two that the German intern provided: J.J. Prum and Donnhoff. Each of the wines was a Riesling and each had depth and dimension unrivaled in white wines of any variety. The Prum began with a whiff of sulfur dioxide in the aroma, but after that dissipated, the aroma was of fine flowers and the taste was both crisp and delicate. Rather than delicate, the Donnhoff was assertive, with tingling citrus qualities mixed with an intriguing mineral-like backbone and a length in the finish that never seemed to end.

At the table, if you weren’t quick and attentive you rarely got a second taste of the wines that impressed you—Nick was insistent on tasting more of the two Rieslings; he flirted with the thought of trying to slip them under the table without anyone noticing, but they were so good that everyone seemed to keep an eye on the bottles.

The evening was a great success at buoying Nick’s spirit. John’s earlier slap in the face at idealism hit hard, but the two German wines managed to soften the blow considerably. As he put his head down on the pillow that night, Nick smiled with thoughts of Riesling. It would be his goal to produce Riesling every bit as solid and great as the two he had tasted that night, and he thought that if he managed in the future to reach his goal, despite anything that might happen in his life thereafter, he would be prepared to die and do so as happy as anyone could be.

No cynic like John, no self-important wine geek on the other side of his tasting bar, no myopic banker, no befuddled bureaucrat, no amount of counterfeit twenties (within reason) would henceforth threaten Nick’s goal.

Thanks to two stellar Rieslings, Nick’s passion was revived.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (13)

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Looking over the back deck at the vineyards sloping toward the lake, Nick plainly saw what looked like an army of dwarf vines clinging to their larger relatives. He learned that these are known as “suckers,” because they shoot from the bottom of the coiffed vines and threaten to suck needed energy away from the growing fruit. The following morning, beginning at 6, he was out there “suckering,” the vines, a backbreaking event, to be sure.

While in the vineyard he took careful look at the fruit development. It was late June and so much of the grape clusters still seemed to carry peas more than grapes, but he could see a swelling in them and he could imagine the fruit that would be there in a few weeks.

He still hadn’t found a market for the Catawba, but he maintained the vineyard anyway, figuring that in time he would sell them to someone or some entity. He was told that they are among the later maturing grapes, but wineries like the Canandaigua Wine Company didn’t need mature Catawba, not for what they did with them. They used the grapes mainly so that they could claim on their label that there are grapes in some of the cheap, fortified stuff that they produce into which the Catawba would go. What they needed was acidity, to balance the tons of sugar that went into the wines. He was told that in some years the Catawba were picked before they had developed much juice, because the winery could always “ameliorate” with water in the winery. So, what they mainly sold was water, sugar, acid from grapes, alcohol, and coloring agents.

That word, ameliorate, as it is used in winemaking at the big companies always made Nick laugh. It reminded him of his experience with Mrs. Apfelbaum in the fourth grade. Whenever a kid gave the wrong answer, the acerbic bitch would say, sarcastically, “that was brilliant.” The class, including Nick, used to think that the word “brilliant’ meant “stupid.” Now, he looks at “ameliorate,” which is defined as, “to make better,” and he sees it being used to make a product worse!

When he had had enough of suckering for the day, he was ready to open the tasting room; on his way there, he made a brief stop at John’s winery down the road, to say hello and to talk about that night’s winemaker dinner.

Nick was told by someone on the staff that John was in the cellar and that he could go right down there. As he descended the stairs to the cellar, he smelled a faint vinegary odor. The walls along side the stairway and ahead of him were made of stone and they were slick with slime, partly gray colored and partly black. The floor, which was concrete, had the same slickness to it. The cellar was not clean.

As he stepped off the last step, Nick saw the lower half of John’s body at the top of a ladder; he had his head and part of his torso in the tank. When he emerged from the tank, Nick called out to him.

“What’re doin’ up there, John?”

John looked down, saw who it was and said, “Wait. I’ll be right down.”

Nick waited and looked around, somewhat appalled at what he saw and smelled.

When he reached the bottom of the ladder, John asked, “What can I do for you?”

“Not much. I just came by to see if you want to go to the winemaker dinner together tonight and to find out what you are bringing with you.”

“C’mon, Nick. You know I can’t tell you what I’m bringing; it spoils the fun.”

“Yeah. But I noticed the last time that we had a couple of duplicates, and I wondered if you guys try to prevent that from happening.”

“Think of what you’re saying, Nick. Having duplicates isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s a good test of our abilities. Didn’t you notice how so few in the group managed to pick out the duplicate wines?”

“S’pose you are right. What about driving down together?”

“Nope, not for me. When I want to go home I don’t want to ask for permission. You guys usually stay too long and drink too much for me.”

Nick noticed a large bag of Domino sugar not far from the tank where John was standing.

“What’re doing with the sugar?”

“What the fuck d’you think I’m doing with it?”

“Are you adding it to your wine?”

“Not to all my wine, but to some, like this one I was working on. It’s my white table wine blend that sells for $3 a bottle. It’s for the market that likes dry wine but drinks sweet wine. They think they are getting what they like and I also think they are getting what they like. Haven’t you learned yet that sugar is the opiate of the masses?”

John laughed aloud at his own joke. Nick uncomfortably laughed with him. He had an unsteady feeling that he had just been given a lesson in winemaking that he wasn’t sure he really wanted to hear.

“It took me a few years to understand that the wines I wanted to produce would probably make me go broke. So, I produce the wines that I want to produce, for the people who want them, and I produce the wines that I don’t care about, for the people who want them. Unfortunately, more people want the wines that I don’t care about. The tasting room taught me this lesson. You know that those Aurora grapes I’m buying from you will become part of this wine next year, don’t you?”

It sounded awful to Nick, but he had to admit to himself that his experience at the tasting room seemed to prove John’s point. It was simply too much to ponder just then; besides, the vinegary smell was getting on his nerves.

“OK, John. I have to get off to work. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Yep, see you tonight. Before you go, could you wait until I get on the second rung of this ladder and then hand me that bag of sugar?”

John had noticed Nick’s disgust; he asked for the favor just to rub salt into the wound.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (12)

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Nick was born gregarious. His mother claimed that he began talking right out of the womb. This personality trait managed to get him through life on New York City streets unscathed, as he frequently talked his way  out of danger. In one beautiful display of talent, Nick managed to talk himself out of a police wagon. His teenage buddies left behind could only feel respect for him as they waved goodbye to him on their journey to night court and his journey home.

As an adult, his gregarious nature secured Nick good paying jobs, as well as a reasonable parade of female partners, which included a first and then a second wife: talk can get you only so far when things aren’t going perfectly at home!

His nature continued to do him good when he was in a position to disarm various alcohol control bureaucrats, but it hadn’t held up well in the tasting room. Just short of two months behind the bar he began to feel that he had enough of tourists. He quickly grew tired of the dump bucket jokes, wondering with each new version whether or not the fool on the other side of the bar can even imagine that his is not a unique attempt at dump bucket humor.

Nick was fast losing patience with tourists who announced their dry palates and then proceeded to pucker at dry wines and swoon over the ones that he personally felt were cloying and insipid. And he definitely felt as if he was running out of retorts against the wine geeks whose aim was to impress with their knowledge of the world of wine rather than to taste and potentially discover something new.

For the first few weeks, he managed light ironic responses, humorous quips, even long yet funny dissertations. But the overall redundancy of the situations and his responses bored and even angered him. He probably would have felt better had the first two months been promising or slightly profitable, but as it stood, he was putting up with the riff-raff while holding onto a dream. Two months remained before that dream would go into high gear as harvest would begin–could he last?

On one particularly annoying afternoon numerous tourists that came and went made him want to scream, which he did at one point after the room had cleared of visitors. About mid day he was alone at the bar and daydreaming of the moment when he could hire someone to work the tasting bar in his place and soon enough a couple came into the tasting room that right away made Nick feel that this visit was going to be a breath of fresh air. He couldn’t pin down why he had felt that way—he just did.

The two looked around a bit, discussed whether or not to try a tasting, and then sidled up to the bar with a twenty-dollar bill. Nick gave them their change of eighteen dollars and proceeded to pour the first of five wines in each glass. Within minutes, the three were engaged in a substantive discussion about the wines of the region and the wines that Nick poured. The man knew a great deal about wines of the world but confessed to being ignorant about the Finger Lakes, which was why they were on the tour. The woman had a good palate—she picked up many subtle things about the wines and that made Nick jump for joy.

After about an hour of tasting and talking, the two walked around the room selecting bottles of wine to buy. Their selection totaled eighty-five dollars. They handed Nick five twenties. When he gave them back their change, the man pointed out that he had given them too much change, but Nick assured them that he hadn’t because his policy was to return the tasting fee when someone purchased wine. They thanked him, even shook his hand, and then they ostensibly moved onto touring the rest of the region.

The episode was so inspiring that it got Nick through the rest of the day without angst.

Each morning, on his way to open the tasting room, Nick stopped at the bank to make a deposit and to get the breakdown of paper money and coins that he needed to seed the register. On the morning after what had become a pleasant afternoon the day before, Nick stopped at the bank as usual. But the transaction wasn’t so usual.

When the teller handed back six twenty-dollar bills Nick looked at him, confused.

“Phonies,” the man said.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (11)

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

The farmers that surrounded Nick certainly were not obese. This generality applied mainly to the farmers who worked their land, not the ones who referred to themselves as farmers but hired out.

Still, after he considered what the usual daily fare was for the many svelte farmers he had met, Nick was in awe.

Their mornings would begin quite early, maybe at five, with bacon or sausage and eggs, white bread toast, and a large glass of milk, followed by coffee. On mornings when pancakes were involved, the stack was high, usually accompanied by bacon, and always topped with a lot of butter, plus syrup. The farmers had long ago lost their taste for real maple syrup, as the processed food industry made the same mark that Monsanto had made in the region. To help along the abandonment of maple syrup there was its growing price. To Nick, who first tasted corn syrup during military service, he’d rather have paid in blood to have maple syrup than to take free corn syrup that looks like motor oil and is as dense as a motor.

The farmers worked all morning and then stopped for a lunch of perhaps franks and beans on a white roll, with a piece of apple pie for dessert. Dinner was often a red meat/dairy fest and it always ended with a sweet dessert. Most of them ate fish once a week, on Friday. But Nick viewed that meal with great scorn. It was usually a slab of haddock fillet fried in batter and accompanied by deep fried potatoes, a soft white heavily buttered biscuit, and mushy green things that the locals referred to as vegetables.

Throughout the day, copious volumes of sugary sodas kept up energy and beer made its appearance on most evenings—wine was not a normal drink even among many local grape growers.

The farmers managed to burn all the fat and calories and to stay slim through hard work.  Nick was learning how that was done.

Each morning, he rose early to get in what he could out in the vineyard, if it wasn’t raining and if the tractor didn’t decide to take the day off. At least once a week, it seemed, the tractor suffered. If it wasn’t a dead battery, it was overworked spark plugs or a plugged up radiator or a starter that stopped starting or a tire that met with a stray trellis staple or a hydraulic that would not lift, a cotter pin gone astray, a power steering that lost its power and its steering.

If he was lucky, and the tractor gave him no grief, Nick worked the vineyards and the rest of the property with it, spraying, brush hogging, tilling, hauling, whatever. He had to stop by 10 so that he could shower, dress, grab a bite and then get to the tasting room to open at noon. On his way out the door, if he had a few extra minutes, he might water a vegetable patch or fix a fallen gutter on the side of the house.

He was also forced to reserve one day a week to allow for pickups of wine and other items like cheeses and crackers to stock the tasting room. This activity bothered him the most because it cut into the time needed to accomplish important chores, and it seemed to be an effort that might never bring him a profit.

In the tasting room itself, Nick had much down time. He probably should have been glad for the rest, but he spent the down time worrying over all the things that needed doing and that he was unable to do while sitting behind the tasting bar awaiting customers. Each evening he told himself that he would change the tasting room days and hours, but each day brought new hope that it would be a better one than the day before and he refrained from making changes to the schedule. It wasn’t that he didn’t see business pick up some; it just didn’t pick up enough to make the tasting room worth it.

At the end of the workday in the tasting room, 5 o’clock, he would rush home, maybe make a quick stop along the way for bread or eggs or whatever he had forgotten on the weekly shopping trip. Once home, he had to let out the dog for a run, open the mail, cook his dinner, and then see if he had energy left to get some garden work or front lawn mowing done.

Like his neighbors, Nick was learning to down copious volumes of fats and calories. Also, like his neighbors, he remained svelte. The question in his mind was: at what cost?

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (10)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Nick shared a vineyard road with the giant Taylor Wine Company. When he bought the property, the surveyor told him that a small part of the road is on his side of the line while the larger part of the road is on their side, which meant that every time Nick made a turn on his tractor at the end of a vineyard row, he used his right of way on their land, and they did the reverse. In the spring, the Taylor tractor sometimes left some major crevices at spots where the ground was soft and muddy—it pissed Nick off, but he never complained.

One morning in early June, while out taking a survey of the vineyard, Nick saw a large Chrysler parked on the vineyard road, at the spot where the slope toward the lake rises just a little before it plunges to a near 30-degree angle. It was a good thing he was walking the vineyard. Had he been on the tractor, he would have had to get someone to move that car. He figured it was one of the Taylor vineyard workers out doing something quick in the vineyard.

Nick walked his rows, checking shoot positions, setting some when they needed it and lopping off some when they needed the haircut. Soon, he was in the row at the end of which was the Chrysler. As he walked closer and closer to the car he could see that someone was in it, apparently reaching down to pick something up from the floor; curiously, the person inside the car remained in that position for quite some time. Finally, Nick had made it to the end of the row where he found that the person inside the car was still in the slumped position. He decided to go see if he could be of help.

It was a warm morning yet the windows of the car were closed. As Nick grew nearer he saw that the person was slumped in the front passenger seat and that the windows on that side of the car were splattered with what looked very much like blood—when he got right up to them, it certainly proved to be blood. In fact, blood was all over the interior of the car.

At first, Nick thought to knock on the window, but realizing that the person inside the car remained slumped toward the floor, he also realized that this person was likely dead. He ran back to the house to call the sheriff’s office to report what he discovered in the vineyard road. The sheriff asked a few quick questions to determine if he should dispatch an ambulance, which he said he would do. He instructed Nick not to touch anything, which he really didn’t have to say, as Nick had no intention of going back to the car.

Since that part of the road belonged to Taylor, Nick thought he should let someone at the company know, too, but he couldn’t figure out who he should call. The only person he had any relationship that worked at Taylor was Frank the vineyard manager, who he had seen many times in the vineyard and who he had a few conversations with out there. Frank not only managed some of Taylor’s vineyards, he also operated his own vineyards plus a small business selling pressed juice to home winemakers, and that was how the two made a later agreement for Nick to buy grapes from Frank. But at this point, he hadn’t a way to reach Frank, so he called the Taylor office to tell them what was going on.

When the sheriff arrived with the ambulance and two deputies, Nick walked over to the vineyard road to see what was up and to offer whatever information he could provide. He learned that the person in the car was a woman and that she had died of a shotgun to the head. Initially, the sheriff said it looked like suicide. Nick gave his account of how he discovered the car and the body and then he went home. Later, he talked with the sheriff who told him the woman lived not far from Nick’s place. She was the wife of a local grape grower who a few weeks earlier was found hanging in his barn. The man was distraught over the family’s financial condition after his grape contracts had been canceled and he could come up with no alternative market. His farm had been in the family for two generations but he had gone broke with debts mounting for farm equipment bought on a third mortgage on his home. Alone and distraught after the suicide of her husband, the woman could not go on. The sheriff said that she had recently agreed with her son to subject herself to psychiatric evaluation, but she apparently chose not to wait for that day.

Nick’s passion for wine and the agricultural life that is required to produce it was being tried on all fronts, from financial to the amount of labor involved, not to mention the loneliness throughout the week as Theresa was off in New York City earning their keep. The double suicide of grape growers caught in the middle of an upheaval in the local wine industry weighed particularly heavy on him for some time. He couldn’t help wonder that maybe this whole idea was a mistake.

For the next few days, as Nick walked the vineyard shoot thinning and adjusting, he felt every bump in the ground, every protruding rock, every blade of the persistent weeds. Through the horror he also felt each warm ray of sunshine that seemed to doggedly try its best to persuade him that everything will be all right.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (9)

Thursday, May 6th, 2010


“Nick. it’s Joel.”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I wasn’t sure if you have gotten yourself on the Cornell Extension Services list and wanted you to know about the upcoming short course at their experiment station in Geneva. Thought maybe we could ride together with John Peterson—it was his suggestion.”

Nick had received notice of the day’s proceedings and he was planning on going.

“Sure thing. Who’s going to drive?”

“John volunteered to do that. Since he’s south of me and you are north of me, he’ll pick me up first and then come get you.”

“OK. I’ll be ready at 7:30. See you then.”

The extension service periodically invited winemakers to review their latest research discoveries and to also engage in comparing local wines with benchmark wines produced elsewhere in the world as a study not in wine styles but in what is behind producing those styles—in other words, the technicals.

This next event was to focus on cool climate precautions, which, though late was also timely, considering that not too many days back a frost swept into the region one evening that threatened the budding vines and that it was still the month of May. Because it’s normally cool enough well into May in the Finger Lakes, the idea of installing frost pots didn’t catch on because the vines usually were not budded out yet. But Nick’s first year as a grape grower turned out to be an anomaly. The warmth of April pushed budding and bloom came in the first part of May. Still, frost danger doesn’t diminish in the region until around Mother’s Day.

The answer in the Finger Lakes for years when buds are susceptible to frost has generally been to dump bales of hay strategically and then light them to smolder, producing a warm smoke that is likely to emanate into the vine rows and push cool air up. This system works well as long as the frost does not bring the temperature too far below freezing and as long as the frost doesn’t exceed its already tenuous welcome. In Nick’s case, however, the native and hybrid grapes in his vineyards were far more frost hardy than the vinifera vines that had been steadily going into the region’s earth. His vines fared well.

When John and Joel arrived to pick Nick up for the drive to the extension station, they were in a jolly mood. He got into the car and within minutes had been infected by the two—they had so much fun that the 45 minute trip seemed to take seconds. It wasn’t until they exited John’s car in the parking lot when Nick noticed the relative “junkiness” of the vehicle. He didn’t know it then, but over the years he had learned that one of many of John’s eccentricities was that he never bought a car new and he never got rid of a car if he could avoid doing it. He had two sales people on the road for his winery and he supplied each with a relative jalopy that made driving them a precarious endeavor; in fact, breakdowns on the road were so common that sales people were difficult to keep and along with making wine, John spent a great deal of time interviewing people for sales positions.

Another of John’s eccentricities was that he did not allow others to do much work in his cellar. As a result, he took responsibility for making the wine and keeping the cellar clean—he failed at the latter, which, in the end, he and his winery paid for dearly. But that would be in the future.

On that day at the experiment station, Nick learned more about cool climate methods for vine pruning, shoot thinning, frost protection, and the spray schedule. Some of what he learned had to do also with the shape in which to leave vines after harvest relative to how the growing season went. Midway into the course, Nick realized how little he knew and how much he would have to learn to be both a grape grower and a winemaker. He began to doubt his ability to do both. Still, he was happy to have learned an awful lot in the class; then, the drive back home made him truly happy.

In the car, Nick talked about his plans and about his problems, especially the part about not being able to replant his vineyard. Since Joel worked at one of the region’s two premium Riesling producers, he promised that he could secure a few tons of Riesling for Nick’s first harvest and maybe even a little Chardonnay. He even offered to press and deliver the product as juice. Nick definitely was interested. John had earlier said that he would buy some of Nick’s Aurora grapes; in the car he solidified a deal to take the whole crop, which was expected to be about 15 tons. At $300 a ton, the money wasn’t terrific, but after deducting for the cost of growing the grapes, he would have enough to cover a piece of the annual home mortgage payments.

For Nick, the experience gave new meaning to the phrase “a fruitful day.”

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance contd. (8)

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The one thing about grape growing Nick realized right away that he would not warm to was petrochemical spraying. Not knowing much about so-called natural controls, he relied heavily on what the local cooperative extension people recommended as well as what local grape growers did. He learned what he could about the spraying program, passed the simpleton test to gain a license to use the chemicals and had at it—while holding his nose. He knew by the acrid release of the powders that he mixed with water in the spray tank that there was danger in those sprays; the smells reminded him of his tour of duty in Vietnam.

There were sprays to be applied during pre-bloom, sprays at bloom, and sprays soon after bloom. He hated the job. Once, in the middle of making passes through the vineyard rows, all of a sudden he felt no resistance from the tractor. A quick glance backward told him why: the sprayer had separated from the tractor power take off and was left sitting a few yards back in the row. The pin that held the sprayer arm in place on the power take off had somehow worked its way out. He had to walk over to his neighbor’s place to seek help to re-hitch the sprayer and he was damned lucky someone was home.

His work in the vineyard took place in the cool early morning spring. On Memorial Day Weekend Nick tried to get a certain amount of work done before making his way to the off-site tasting room about seven miles south for he and Theresa to open up at noon. The sprayer had separated from the tractor on the Friday of that weekend, opening day, and so it meant that he would be out there the following morning to finish up—provided rain didn’t mess up both the schedule and the chance to get the chemicals on the vines the requisite few hours required before a rain for them to be effective.

He spent most of the previous week doing what needed doing in the vineyard and around the property in the early morning and then spending afternoons making the rounds to local wineries buying stock for the off-site tasting room. He had met many of the people before, but this was a good opportunity to form relationships with his compatriot wine producers. The experience slowly gave him the sense that local winemakers were a friendly, sharing lot but the winery owners who were not winemakers often weren’t as sharing. In fact, many of them seemed outright suspicious.

It didn’t help that at some of his stops he was forced to listen to an owner complain about the owner down the road or to spew jealousies concerning the fortunes of other winery owners, if not contempt. It amazed Nick that the owners were so free with their invective. It didn’t seem to occur to them that their conversations made him wonder what these people would in the future say about him or what they already were saying.

At first, Nick thought he would seek to buy wine from these wineries to taste and sell at his shop by asking for the price they would normally sell to wholesaler distributors and to get at least one bottle free for tastings each weekend. That idea fell apart after his first two visits, when each owner brought up the subject before Nick could, and each owner flatly stated that he would have to pay for the wine what retailers pay for it. That meant one of two things for Nick: either he would lose money on each bottle that he opened for tasting or he would have to charge a tasting fee large enough to cover the cost of each bottle he opened. The law had recently been amended to allow farm wineries to charge a tasting fee, and every winery owner knew it; therefore, none would budge on the price of wine to him and none seemed to care to give away a bottle each weekend.

By the Thursday evening, he had stocked the tasting room with what he thought would be enough wine for tastings and for sales. He settled on charging one dollar to taste three wines. This arrangement, he thought, would be cheap enough not to bother tourists plus it would serve to prevent people from tasting too much wine. The Memorial Day Weekend crowd, such as it could have been called a crowd, proved that he was wrong on each count.

A few things went against Nick and his new tasting room business: many of the farm wineries hadn’t yet started to charge a tasting fee, which put him at a disadvantage with tourists who had stopped at some of the wineries before getting to his place; and the fact that tourists are more enamored by the romantic notion of standing at a bar within a winery caused many of them to drive right by his place—he later learned that a few winery staff were pooh-poohing his tasting room to customers at their bars, a fact that truly enraged him but had to remain unchallenged, as the information came to him from some of the tourists who did make it to his place who by their transient nature could not be considered reliable sources. Finally, his tasting room was situated on a main highway that was both an entry and an exit route. On entry, tourists were not inclined to stop at a non-winery tasting room; by exit, many were satiated.

In all, his first weekend in the tasting room was a bust. When he sat to figure out his costs and the cash register take, he realized that he and Theresa had worked the whole weekend for approximately 85 cents an hour. Something either had to change or to be abandoned.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.