Archive for the ‘Romance of Wine’ Category

One Romance (20)

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

After Labor Day traffic slows at the tasting rooms until October. On one slow day, while Nick was in the back room poring over plans for his first pick up of grapes for his first commercial winemaking, the little bell over the door to the tasting room tinkled to alert him that someone had come in.

It was still rather hot outside. The man held his suit jacket slung over his left shoulder. He wore a blue and white striped shirt that was accented by red suspenders about as thick as letterhead. The man’s head supported a full mane of jet-black hair that was so slick and shiny it gave the appearance of a size Triple E patent leather shoe.

Certain the guy was there to sell him something, Nick murmured to himself, “Oh boy.”

“Hi there. I’m lookin’ for Nick, the owner. My name is Gordon.”

“What is it you need, Gordon?”

“Are you Nick?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“On what you need—yes, I’m Nick.”

“Well, Nicky…”

“I hate Nicky, so please.”

“Oh, sorry ole man. Nick it is. Well anyway, I’m lookin’ to get into the wine business and two people today suggested that I talk with you.”

Nick immediately figured that his winemaker friend Joel had to be one of those two people, as a joke on him.

“Really, Gordon. Why do you suppose they thought I could be of help? Is there something specific?”

“Well, there is something specific. You see, I don’t want to run a winery—don’t even want to own one—just want to invest in one. Hell, I’m a beer drinker!”

Nick was about to strong arm Gordon out the door when the phone rang. It was Joel.

“Nick, is that guy Gordon there?”

“Yes.”

“Hear him out. He says he has money and wants to invest. I thought of you right away because he seems like someone who could help you raise the cash you need to stay afloat and he knows so little about the industry, he’d probably stay out of your way.”

“You think? I don’t. But I’ll give it a try.”

Nick looked Gordon straight in the face and noticed that Gordon’s head dropped a little plus his gaze shifted downward.

“Look Gordon. I’m unsure why someone who doesn’t even drink wine wants to invest in a winery, but I’m willing to hear you out.”

“Good. You know, people own stock in companies that produce things that they may never use as long as they believe the company is a good investment. It’s about the money, Nick. Now I know you guys who make wine have passion, but the question is, do you have the money? I have the money. I want to back someone with passion so that my money—and his—will grow. It’s as simple as that.”

“No it isn’t so simple. Have you done homework? Do you know the margins in this business? Do you…”

“Nick, if I didn’t do my homework I wouldn’t be here. I can see that the wine industry is headed for major growth; the population numbers show it; the increased wine consumption numbers show it; the culture is going to catch up to wine.”

“What you say is true, Gordon, but this is not California. As old as the New York wine industry is, and it is as old as California’s, this state isn’t even close to the success of the West Coast wine business.”

“That’s right, Nick. But California didn’t start out that way—everything starts out as something less before it grows into something more.”

Gordon was both wrong and right. As they spoke, the large Gold Seal Winery was closing shop and the even larger Taylor/Pleasant Valley Wine Company was canceling grape grower contracts and had been sold to Seagram, which was the parent company of Gold Seal. Coca Cola bought Taylor in 1976, couldn’t make it work out, and so it sold to Seagram. Now it appeared that Seagram would soon try to get out from under that weight. On the other hand, a shift from large winery cheap stuff to consumption of so-called boutique wines was taking place, and small wineries were popping up across the country, just like Nick’s winery. For a minute, Nick’s interest perked up; then, Gordon went on.

“Look, Nick. We could map it out. Over a few meetings, we’ll determine if we should go ahead. If we go ahead, we’ll lay out a complete plan, a roadmap. I’ll put up the funds we determine we’ll need, you’ll work the operation the way that we determine it will need to be run, we’ll keep tabs on everything and when the time comes to cash out—bang.”

“Cash out?”

“Yessir. We build it, we sell it, we move on with our money to our next interest. That’s how it’s done, Nick. Hell, by then, I might lose interest in the wine business anyway.”

“Uh. Mmmm. Gee Gordon. Can we get together over a bite to eat later on?”

“Sure. I’m in the area two more days. How ‘bout tomorrow night?”

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
July 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (19)

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The fourth day of Nick’s first harvest was given over to Spumante.

Spumante had been given that nickname when he was a child for his seeming effervescent personality—and it stuck all the way into his forties. His real name was Frank Guzzi, and his business was selling Finger Lakes grape juice at the New York City Farmer’s market.

The Mennonites went back to work for John’s winery, as he had a harvest coming due, so Nick got himself some family and friends to pick the fourth and final day of the Aurora harvest. He had to train everyone of course, and that made his day long and hard; but the picking got done, and the grapes were in good shape. All that was needed was Spumante to show up with his truck, which he ultimately did and only a few hours later than he promised.

Nick had heard stories of Spumante not showing up at all, so he considered himself lucky when the bubbling personality pulled his truck up by the side of the road. When he climbed down from the cab of the truck to get the lay of the land for backing into the area where the grapes were stacked, Spumante was too ebullient for a man his age. Nick expected that he was drunk. He wasn’t drunk. He was, in fact, a disarming fellow, one of those people who draws you in by the force of his personailty. Nick could plainly understand the nickname.

Behind the effervescence was a liberal man with a 1960s sense of revolution. He opened the conversation not about why he was late, not about what he was there to do, but about the economic mess that Reagan had perpetrated on the country with his “trickle down” theory that managed to trickle down the highest interest rates and inflation in quite some time. Apparently, Spumante was having business financial trouble.

After a few minutes of bubbling over, Spumante told Nick that he would not be able to give him the money that he was supposed to have brought with him for the grapes. Nick briefly thought about telling him to move on but then he figured that the work was done, there was no way he could sell the grapes to anyone else that evening and there was no guarantee that he could sell to anyone else at all. He had no choice but to give Spumante credit.

They agreed that Nick would be paid as soon as Spumante returned from New York City, where he claimed he would sell out the juice. To make Nick feel better, he also claimed that the fellow who would press the grapes for him also agreed to wait for the money.

“OK, Spumante, I’ll expect that you’ll be here with the check the day after you return home—right?”

“You got it Nick. No problem,” then, as is often the case with people who don’t know when to stop, he went on, “Art told me that you were a stand up guy, the kind of street smart fellow who could read a person, and I’m glad you can see that I’m not out to screw you…”

Nick cut him off, mainly because he knew that the rest would only make him uncomfortable and possibly annoyed, as he realized that he was being schmoozed by someone with no immediate ability to pay for the grapes that he was buying.

Spumante jumped back into the truck and proceeded to jockey it into position to back onto the property without having to set his two front wheels on the property across the road, which belonged to someone else. Unfortunately, the truck was too large for the number of “k” turns it took plus, Spumante didn’t seem to have a handle on gauging where his rear tires were at any given moment; soon enough, one of them wound up in the roadside ditch, a catastrophe that was made worse by Spumante’s reaction, which was to laugh uncontrollably.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Spumante? Have you got bubbles for brains?”

“Aw, lighten up Nick. I’ll get outta the ditch.”

After two attempts, Spumante was deeper into the ditch, with the truck looking precariously like it might roll over.

Nick started up his vineyard tractor and went to find the chain that was hooked on each end for towing and that he remembered seeing somewhere in the barn when he bought the place. Nick’s friends and family nibbled on fried chicken on the front porch and enjoyed the show.

Towing the truck out proved rather easy and as soon as he got the truck onto the road Nick told Spumante to stand aside while he would maneuver the rig onto his property and in front of the stack of grape boxes. Spumante made his way over to the front porch to eat some chicken and to enjoy the show himself.

Ultimately, it all turned out fine: the crew loaded the truck, Spumante sped off to his friend’s press deck, and Nick got to eat the last of the fried chicken before it was time to call it a day.

Two weeks later, Nick was on the phone with Spumante trying to be calm.

“Nick. I will send you the check soon. Things aren’t going right.”

“Spumante, I gave you credit when you needed it under the assumption that you would be here weeks ago with payment. This is no way to start a business relationship. You’re a fun guy, but you are not going to win me over with that stuff, not if you plan to screw me. I don’t take kindly to being screwed, and right now, things aren’t going right for my business either. So please, don’t hit me with your problems; find a way to send me a check.”

The check arrived two days later—post dated. When Nick deposited it, he expected it to bounce, but it did not.

It was a couple of years before he ran into Spumante again, at a wine tasting.

“Hey, Spumante. It’s Nick. Remember?”

“Yes, I remember you. Do I owe you money?”

“No. You took care of that.”

“In that case, how the hell are you Nick?”

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
June 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (18)

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Nick’s first summer in the wine business went reasonably well and reasonably quick. Before he knew it, one day he walked the vineyards to take stock in his still firm but pretty grapes and the next day, it seemed, the Aurora grapes were nearly translucent.

It was the next to last week in August after what was an unusually warm, dry summer in the region. An early crop to begin with, the Aurora had matured more than a week before normal. The time to pick had come and of course, Nick was ill prepared. He needed pickers, picking boxes and a truck.

John down the road contracted to buy the Aurora but he was not prepared for the size of Nick’s crop when he went over to take a look at it and to give the ok to pick. In the end, he needed about two-thirds of what Nick could offer. The other third was up to Nick to get rid of or to drop on the ground.

Since his vineyards were still maturing, John agreed to send Nick enough picking boxes and a crew of Mennonite women that picked for him. Getting the truck was Nick’s problem. They set a date for the harvest, the next Saturday, which was only two days away. Nick quickly called the local truck rental place to reserve a truck large enough to carry six tons of grapes. The rental place offered a truck that maxed out at two tons, which meant he’d deliver the grapes in three trips, which was fine since John had given him enough boxes to pick three tons.

That Saturday morning, at 4:30, Nick drove twelve miles to pick up the Mennonite family, as they did not drive vehicles. He marveled at the incongruity of religious thinking that forbids owning and driving a truck, but allows women and children to ride in the cabin and truck bed of someone else’s truck. What could God be thinking?

The Mennonite matriarch’s name was either Bensch or Wensch or Blanch—her accent was so thick that for three mornings, Nick understood only half of what the woman said to him. He explained to her that she would be in charge of the picking and that he and Theresa would be picking with them, and that they needed only to pick one acre each day for four days, which wasn’t too difficult for the number of people picking. She shook her head yes to everything, but later, after he noticed that she was ready to keep the crew going beyond the acre that he mapped out, Nick realized that she probably didn’t understand his New York City accent.

Grapes picked on the fourth day were for a fellow who sold grape juice in the New York City Farmer’s Market; he became Nick’s savior for the three tons of grapes that John couldn’t take, and he would pick up the grapes in his own truck, have the juice pressed for him and then bring the picking boxes back to John. Plus, he would pay the same price that John was paying for the grapes. It was too good to be true—literally—but that story will be told later.

Nick handed everyone a grape clipper and gave instructions. He showed them what to look for in Aurora that was perfectly ripe and what not to put into the picking box. He explained that as each box was filled it was to be moved from under the trellis where  Nick had placed it the day before and taken to the end of the row for pick up on the cart that was hitched to the tractor and that Nick would drive around every so often for loading. This was the hardest part of the harvest; Theresa and he handled it. She had taken time away from her work to go through the harvest with him, and she was having regrets…

After the first day, Nick decided to switch from early morning to late afternoon picking so that the grapes would stay cool over night and he could deliver them before dawn the following day, provided he could make use of the scale at the large Taylor Winery. He called Taylor’s harvest manager and was told it would be fine to show up early, as they were also picking Aurora that week so they’d be there. Nick had to first drive the truck to Taylor to get the tare weight of the empty truck. He was to return to the Taylor scale with the loaded truck to get the full weight. Taylor would give him a slip that calculated the grape tonnage in the truck and from which John would pay Nick’s bill for grapes. Taylor was the only nearby company with a truck scale and the weighing was provided to local growers free of charge.

The first day of picking went without a hitch—until Nick drove the grapes to the winery to be offloaded into the press.

John had a reputation for being frugal. If something was serviceable, he used it until it fell apart. His wine sales people went on the road in what looked like stock cars after a race. John refused to spend money on blacktopping the winery driveway: too expensive and also develops potholes. He preferred crushed stone.

The driveway to the winery was about 200 yards long—uphill. Throughout the summer, thunderstorms and downpours eroded great volumes of soil down the driveway and by late August, it was like a bombsite. Passenger cars had to maneuver up the driveway slowly—trucks had to do it even more slowly. Nick made it about two-thirds of the way in first gear and at a speed of no more than 10 mph. But a few feet from the top, he hit a major crevice and even at that low speed the truck bounced and swayed crazily until he heard a loud crash in the bed. Nick proceeded to the press deck without looking back. He did not want to know.

At the press deck, John’s vineyard manager looked at the mess of turned over grape boxes and grapes splattered here and there in the truck bed. He looked at Nick and the two shook their heads. Then the vineyard manager looked out at the driveway, looked back at Nick for confirmation, which Nick gave him with a nod. The vineyard manager went into a tirade of curses against his cheap boss then he buckled down and got his crew together to clean up the mess and salvage the grapes that could be pressed.

When Nick handed John the weigh sheet and his bill, John told him that they would have to guess at the loss and then subtract that from the bill for tonnage, to which Nick replied, “Not if you value your life, John.”

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
June 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (17)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Settling into the American Wine Society (AWS) meeting turned out to be more difficult than Nick expected.

First, there were the inside jokes to endure, as there usually are with groups that have a long history. If it weren’t for his gregariousness, he would have been bored as surely as the look on Theresa’s face told how bored she was.

Second, there was the fellow responsible for many of the aperitif wines.

The focus of AWS wasn’t just toward home winemakers but it certainly was skewed that way.  Still, one of the functions of membership was access to the AWS training to become a wine judge. Those who successfully completed the training were allowed to judge home winemaker as well as commercial winemaker competitions that were held at the AWS annual meeting.

A few of the local Finger Lakes chapter members were trained judges; one of them, Sal, was responsible in part for operation of the commercial wine competition. Sal was also what Theresa liked to refer to as “a wine bore,” someone who drones on about his cellar, his trips, his stellar palate, and his absolute intellect.

Nick did not like this man from the moment they shook hands; it had something to do with the way Sal introduced himself.

“High, I’m Sal. I hear you are starting a winery. I hope you produce better wine than some of the local stuff I’ve had.”

It wasn’t only a nasty thing to say about the local wine industry, it was presumptuous for Sal to assume that Nick knew or agreed with the man’s opinion.

The next thing that Sal said solidified Nick’s disdain.

“Come and taste some of the left over wines.”

Nick asked, “Left over from what?”

“From the commercial competition. I figure since the competition’s over and we didn’t use every one of the three bottles the winery’s send us, it’s fair game for me to take them for our meetings—for education purposes (wink).”

Soon the host for the evening called out for everyone to take a seat at the table for the Cayuga White blind tasting. Nick made sure not to be seated near Sal and his quiet, subservient-looking wife. For the rest of the evening he tried to avoid conversation with Sal, but he was also grateful to have met the man, as he learned something about a process that he was sure to address later on in his career.

The host gave each taster this note to read:

The Cayuga White grape was developed at Cornell University’s Geneva New York Experiment Station in the 1940s. Its direct parents are the French hybrid Seyval and the experiment station hybrid Schuyler. Seyval is a cross of the Old World Vitis vinifera species and some American species. Schuyler is a cross of Zinfandel (true vinifera) and Ontario (a hybrid of American species grapes). The first Cayuga experimental wine was released in 1955.

The result of all that hybridizing was an extremely fruity and acidic grape that gives the winemaker a fruity, crisp wine that reminds of grapefruit. Most Cayuga White wines are produced with a noticeable volume of residual sugar to offset the high acidity.

In fact, the wines at the blind tasting fit the above description except one, the one that Nick brought.

Oddly, the winemaker who once told Nick that sugar is the opiate of the masses, produced a Cayuga with so little residual sugar that it not only stood out at the tasting, it stood out badly.  It was all acid and it was all rather horrible. Since this was a blind tasting, and since Nick had no idea what John’s Cayuga would taste like, as he had never tasted it before, he wound up making truly harsh remarks about the wine that he brought to his first AWS meeting, which in the end endeared him to the group for his indoctrination into bad local wine.

Sal was particularly pleased at the spectacle; he expressed to Nick his hatred for the grape and for hybrids in general. Nick uncommonly did not respond.

Nick found the other Cayuga wines pleasant to sip, but they weren’t much else. These were not complex or depth-charged wines. They were fine quaffers, and if that’s what the Geneva Experiment Station intended, then they had done a good job of it.

The food came out soon after the blind tasting ended. Some truly odd concoctions were placed on the table, and the oddest of all was a block of Philadelphia Brand cream cheese topped with a deep red cocktail sauce of some kind. It scared Nick.

The table included a number of different crackers swiped with spreads of varying colors from pink to green, shrimp drowned in cocktail sauce, fried chicken wings in mustard, knock-off European style cheeses from Wisconsin, and deviled eggs, a food that Nick spent years avoiding at gatherings; he could not imagine why anyone would make an egg into something so hard and tasteless. He ate the shrimp, but only after scraping off all the sickly, sweet cocktail sauce. He was pleased to learn that Cayuga happens to be a fine match for shrimp.

On the way home, Nick mentioned to Theresa that considering AWS people are wine people, one would think the food at a meeting would be if not stellar at the very least edible. She knew that he was already planning the food for the meeting that they would host in the future.

Aside from his horror at the food and his distaste for Sal, Nick got what he wanted that evening: he saw first hand how consumers react to many wines. He also saw a way that he could meet a demand for easy to drink, fruity wines with a touch of sweetness that could be produced at a reasonable enough price to perhaps produce that cherished thing every business needs: cash flow. If he could find a supplier of the grape, he was prepared to add Cayuga White to his product mix.

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
June 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (16)

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Some smart bastard once told Nick that before starting a winery he should decide who his customers would be.

It didn’t take Nick long to understand what the man had told him. The problem was that he didn’t start trying to understand it until he spent a few days behind the tasting bar, well after starting his business.

The tasting room “customers” were not at all how he imagined wine drinkers would be as customers. Truth be told, he didn’t like a lot of them, the true tourists, the ones with time on their hands, money in their wallets, and not an ounce of natural curiosity; the kind that came to the Finger Lakes of New York looking for wine that tastes like a massive red from Napa Valley, California.

From not liking them much, Nick segued into having to figure out either how to sell to them or how to change their minds, if he was going to have a successful winery, that is.

One way to start, he thought, even as late as he was at it, would be to join the local American Wine Society (AWS) chapter. The organization had a reputation for mixed membership that included general consumers, home winemaker hobbyists, and professionals in the wine business.

True, there was a decided academic slant to the group, but that might have been for two reasons: the organization certainly appealed to home winemakers and a lot of those people turned out to be profs at universities, especially the ones in the microbiology department; second, thinking in the theoretical suits those who would tell others how to make wine commercially rather than to actually become entrepreneurs themselves—those kinds of people like to congregate and jawbone.

Still, the local AWS chapter had its share of general consumers. The cross section of people surely would give Nick experience in learning what consumers seek and how they can be approached.

AWS allowed members to bring guests to one meeting so that the guests could experience before joining. Nick and Theresa became the guests of one of the local winemaker members of the organization. The meeting was large—about 20 people—and the cross section of members went from grape growers to high school teachers to retired corporate people (mostly engineers) to college professors to winemakers, most with a spouse, a few as singles.

For each meeting, members were to bring a bottle of wine to share as an aperitif tasting before the meeting began and a bottle of wine for the blind tasting/evaluation that would take place after the business of the group was completed. The blind tasting was usually a theme that was announced in advance. For this meeting, the theme was Cayuga White, a local hybrid grape that at the time was readily available and popular in the Finger Lakes.

Nick had tasted a few Cayuga wines and liked some of them, but he certainly had no idea that he was an expert at the stuff. What Cayuga he had tasted inspired him to refer to the wine as “the Chenin Blanc of the East.” He also had no idea which was considered the best Cayuga producer, as he wanted to bring a bottle of the region’s best for the blind tasting. He took someone’s word for it and brought the Cayuga that John down the road from him produced.

In addition to the wines, people were asked to bring a dish to pass. At the end of the meeting and blind tasting, everyone ate the food and slurped the remaining wines. Usually, there was a semi-orderly mostly mad rush to the bottles as soon as the tasting ended because everyone knew that the top wines in the blind tasting emptied quickly.

Nick hated potluck dining and he saw it as a cultural failing to ask guests to bring their own food to your home. The food was served buffet style—something else Nick hated—but he could do nothing to change the local AWS custom, so he went along with it in someone else’s home but vowed to offer sit down wine and food evenings when his turn came to host.

With an evening of wine and conversation in front of him, Nick was excited at his first AWS meeting. He didn’t get to do much consumer study as everyone gathered for the greeting and then the meeting, but he figured that would come after he settled in, and so, after sampling an insipid home made wine that someone had brought, he found a sink in which to dump it, headed for a commercial wine to taste, and began to settle in…

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
June 2010. All rights reserved.

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.