Its Catawba, Nick. You arent going to get rich on it.
This was the advice Nick was given by his neighbor after he balked at the price per ton that the large winery in Canandaigua offered: $300.
I know, Danny, but how do you guys make a living on that kind of price?
Danny laughed so hard it scared Nick. He thought maybe the man was touched!
Nick, you should make wine and stop growing grapes. You dont have the heart for it. Grape growing is the one business where you buy all your supplies and equipment at retail, and you sell your produce at wholesale. Its been like that for some time now. In the old days, when Taylor was a big national winery we made money. But as you can see, Im still driving my 1960s Mercedes.
Anyway, do you want me to tell the grape buyer over there that you are in with three acres at about, what, 18 tons?
Yeah, Im in. Gotta get rid of them somehow. Take a look at them. Do you think Ive got about 6 tons an acre there?
Without a doubt.
Nick had that conversation in mid September. By late September, he had received a phone call that picking was scheduled three days from then. He was incredulous.
Danny, they are like peas out there.
Cmon, Nick. Ive seen em. They have some color.
Well, yeah, but Im talking about their firmness. They simply arent mature.
They doan need no mature grapes. They need grapes for acid and so that they can use the word grape on the label. They make up for no juice with water and sugar. You know, this stuff doesnt go into the kind of wine you drink every day. It goes into someones back pocket
There was that laugh again, that fell between a howl and a growl. It wasnt the last time Nick would hear that laugh from a local grower. Over the past few years, they had fine-tuned sarcasm and black humor concerning their fate. Some of them have pulled up stakes; some have started their own little wineries; the rest of them laugh sardonically and keep the bill collectors at bay.
The crew showed up just before dawn. Nick heard them coming in the distance, the quiet, steady groan of a few tractors, one that was connected to the mechanical harvester and two others trailed by wagons with one-ton bins in them. He looked out the window in their direction and saw what appeared like a large insect with bright beams for eyes bouncing its way into the vineyard road. He put on his boots and gloves and went out to start his tractor.
Now, heres how we do this, Danny told him.
Ill set the harvester at the end of the row. My guys here will drive a tractor on either side with the bins in them. You will ride on one of the tractor wagons and my son over there will ride on the other. Your job is to clear the bins of debrisyou know, dead birds, pieces of wire, whatever aint grapes. Dont worry about the way the grapes lookthey suck anyway.
After about an hour or so into it, Nick was enjoying the work and especially the camaraderie. He had been working for so long all by himself that he missed talking to co-workers. Talking to tourists was not the same, and not nearly as pleasurable.
Unfortunately, for Nick, three acres of mechanical harvesting goes rather quickly, especially when nothing goes wrongand nothing went wrong. The grapes were picked, the bins were loaded onto a truck, and everyone was gone well before noon. Danny would get back to Nick in a day or so with the full tonnage and a check for $300 each ton, less the picking fee.
Nicks phone rang early the next morning.
Hey, Nick, its Danny.
That was fast. I expected to hear from you tomorrow or the day after.
Yeah, well, the news aint good. When I got the grapes to Canandaigua I was told that they over purchased and didnt need all that I was able to bring them
Nick cut in.
Huh? I have no market for those grapes and I have no way to take them back
Relax, relax. They took the grapes, but they gave me less money for them.
Is this some kind of scam, Danny?
Oh, I know how it looks and I wondered how the hell I was going to break this news to you. But we all were forced to take $250 a ton instead of the promised $300. This is the way these big guys deal with us now. In the old days, Taylor would never have dreamed up such a scheme. Tell you the truth, this may be my last year at this.
Well, it certainly is my last year growing Catawba. Have you got the check? How many tons did I come in at?
Yours was as I expected, just over 18 tons. The check will be issued today and I will go get it. They are paying me for the whole lot because they have no contract with you. Ill pay you out of my bank.
OK, Danny. Thanks for the call.
Hey, Nick. Dont take it too hard. Chalk it up as a lesson: the money is not in the vineyard; its in the bottle.
Nick sat down to eat breakfast and for the first time that he could remember, he didnt feel like eating anything. He felt like strangling the grape buyer at the winery, Danny, and himself, as all were complicit in how terrible he felt just thenand just then, the phone rang.
Nick, its Fred.
Fred was Nicks longest standing friendthey met in the fourth grade. He was coming up from the city for a visit.
Nick couldnt have gotten better news.
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 thats a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2010. All rights reserved.