Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Vineyardista

I’ve realized that my dearly, beloved wife, the Queen of this narrative, is a vineyardista – someone who dresses up before going into the vineyard to get dirty. Her morning begins with a shower, then she dons color coordinated pink polka-dot boots, slacks and a pink sweat shirt and spays a cloud of Channel No. 5 over her hair and clothes. It has been raining a bit today – I call it Normandy weather – a few sprinkles here, a little sunshine there – so she’s fashionably dressed for wallowing in the mud.

When it comes to a night on the town Saturday there is no "recessionista" chic here – we go as we are.The pink polka dots are muddied over. There are brown stains on the pink sweat shirt, and even the Channel No. 5 is a faint memory. We don’t need to dress down to tone down during tough economic times – we’re always dressed this way. And, we’re just too tired to shower and change after working all day with the vines. (Maybe the Queen has it right taking her bath before vineyarding because I haven’t bathed in a couple of days which is soon to become a few days because I would just rather collapse into bed.) I half expect the wino outside the liquor store to give us a quarter as we limp in after a day of work. I’m more frightening then him – in the afternoon I grabbed a pomegranate and gorged on it leaving deep red stains around my mouth. I look like an advertisement for "Got Vampire?" combined with my disheveled look – the wino edges away.

This aptly named "Liquor Store" in the California version of a redneck town called Escondido, CA has a hidden jewel in the basement—a machine called an Enolmatic which dispenses a measured taste of wine by inserting a SmartCard into a slot. The wines vary from $9.95 to $99.95 – the beauty of it is you can taste the most expensive wine for $4 a shot, while the cheap stuff is 99 cents. As we have already pre-paid the remaining $12 on our card, there is no cash outlay for us to have a few sips Saturday night. Needless to say that the $99 wine from Napa Valley tasted pretty good and the $54 wine from the Stags Leap area also tasted pretty good and the $10 wine wasn’t that bad. What was nice about it was that we got to taste some pretty good wines pretty quickly and it didn’t cost us any cash, and we walked away not buying any of the bottles that were on sale. That’s trickle down economics. We trickle down the aisles and out the store without spending a cent.

There is a McDonalds 100-yards from the Liquor Store and I was thinking about Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live when she talked about the $70 BILLION economic bailout and why it’s important to restore $1 value meals. The Queen is craving French fries so we go to McDonalds and order from the $1 menu: Hamburger: $1. French fries: $1. Espresso: $1. I kid you not. This was one of the McDonalds with gourmet coffee service: cappuccino, lattes, the works. In the interest of full disclosure, I must state: I am a shareholder of Starbucks (having purchased at $10/share recently) and the Princess was gainfully employed by Starbucks in Manhattan this past summer. Moreover, when I joined Joe The Wino on his march to Wall Street, I was given a free Starbucks coffee by the Starbucks manager (as that was the shop where the Princess had worked). Not only did we eat dinner for $5 cash on Saturday (including the cost of sips of $99 wine, $54 wine and $10 wine), the espresso we enjoyed at McDonalds was delicious, had a bit of froth on top, and was large enough to serve 3 people. Yes, a triple espresso, for 33% less than the cost of a Starbucks espresso, and 3X the liquid. "Would you like a flavor with that?" asked the MacDonaldsista. "No thanks. Plain is fine." No one had ordered an espresso from that location before and the barristas need a bit more training. I’m planning to stop by there for my morning Joe tomorrow.

It was not a good week for Joe The Wino—it started out promising with the newfound celebrity he enjoyed from his interview with The Winemaker’s Journal and his march "From Main Street To Wall Street." Then Tuesday came, and Obama was elected president which sent Joe, who was in denial about the possibility of an Obama presidency, into a tizzy. On election eve he went to visit Gerry Meisenholder, one of the premier grape growers in Blue-Merle Country, bringing with him a bottle of 1970 Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine. I don’t know how much Joe paid for it but let’s just say it might have cost $15 per sip had it been featured on the enolmatic. When Fox News announced Obama the winner, Joe told his host he might as well open up the Lafite, since the President-elect was likely to implement a wealth tax and tax assets including wine collections. So they sipped the 38-year old wine before the cost went up from taxation, and Joe thought it tasted a lot like Gerry’s 8 year old wine which had oxidized and is worth $1 a sip or less.

In spite of drinking a rare wine on election eve, Joe was in a foul mood when he arrived at his company the next morning. Joe is the CEO of a high tech firm in San Diego, and he’s not at all pleased that his taxes are going to go up in the Obama regime. What’s more, his company was forecast to grow 50% this year but with all those economic troubles around the world, business only increased 15% year over year in October, so Joe restructured the company and laid-off 15% of the work force. Joe’s friends in his CEO round-table applauded his moves which they say are necessary in tough times. I say there I go but for the grace of God and I’m grateful to have a job to support my winemaking, my vineyard and my women.

Back at the Blue-Merle ranch, the Queen had already fired the work force last winter when she figured out that she could do the work of the staff in half the time (and could save the money she would have paid the workers and purchase 46 canary island palm trees for $39/each which will be worth $10,000/each 49.7 years from now). So when I was cutting the large limb from the Pepper tree in the vineyard that crashed down on the wires of the trellis system which snapped the end post causing all the vines on that row to sag where the rabbits could jump-up and reach and eat and make disappear overnight what had taken us two years to grow, there was nothing to do but fix it. So I started digging a hole to China in the hard, brick clay and the going was slow but as I progressed I noticed the soil was moist underneath a vine that had been irrigated regularly and it was still moist two feet under and the baby vine’s roots had traveled to that 2-ft. depth as well. A good sign. I put the replacement pole in place and then a metal rod to support it and as I was preparing to pour cement into the hole the wheel barrow hit the metal support rod and the wooden pole feel on me and the metal support rod fell down to the ground breaking the irrigation head on the irrigation line on the way down. Self reliance is a good thing to have in a recession when you don’t have the money to hire workers or when you’re saving your money to invest in palm trees so there was nothing to do but to try and fix it. I found that the Queen kept in the garage enough irrigation parts for us to plant another vineyard or to open a wholesale supply outlet for valves, bushings, T’s, connectors, blue glue and primer glue. I was able to piece the assembly back together and this only took less than a day. I began thinking about economic theory and the division of labor and began wondering if this was the best use of my time when I could have spent the day looking for new customers and increasing sales at my company and with an increase in sales could come an increase in jobs and economic wealth.

"Do you see the smoke," asked the Queen drawing me out of my reverie. A wildfire had started on the horizon and we had a perfect view of it and it was a good excuse to go into the house and call it in just in case no one else was reporting it.

Back inside there was a message from Merlot Mike who wanted to borrow our enolmatic which is slightly different than the one used at the Liquor Store – we use it to bottle wine. The Queen came in and complained about being tired and had that look that said she was more than tired. I pricked her finger and tested her blood sugar which at 66 was very low so we poured some orange juice into her to raise the sugar and made her a snack of bread and olive oil. It’s not easy trying to manage a vineyard when your blood sugar puts you into a comatose state, there are wild-fires starting on the horizon, the banks won’t loan you money, and it seems that everytime you touch something (like cutting a tree) you break something that needs repair and while you’re doing the repair you break something else. Then you see that with the cool weather the gophers are getting active again and you’re just too tired to set a trap for them. You pray for your sister who has cancer and then your other sister complains because you haven’t called her for weeks and your parents keep asking you when you’re coming out for Thanksgiving when they live 3,000 miles away and you’re just trying to hang on and there’s so much to do.

I headed to Merlot Mike’s and I promised I wouldn’t have anything to drink. I was good when he offered me a glass of wine and I said I’ll have it to go and save it for the evening so he poured it. But since the glass couldn’t transport very well without spilling there was nothing to do but drink it. Then I needed to sip what he was bottling and it was 2007 Merlot which he had just blended with some Cabernet Franc made a month before. And now you’ve learned a winemaker’s secret and time will tell if it’s good. When I got back home I gave what was left of the wine to the Queen who was feeling better and I finished digging the hole for the post and that’s when I broke the irrigation line. We got the line fixed and managed to restring the vines that were sagging so the rabbits wouldn’t gorge on them. Then Bluey and I set a few gopher traps and went about giving haircuts to a few of the overgrown vines and soon it was dark and I was working by moonlight and Bluey took a nap with a stick in his mouth.

It’s another full moon eve and it’s a magical time in the vineyard. It’s cooler now than last month, and if I were a rattlesnake I wouldn’t be out of my den on a cool evening like tonight which means it’s safe for me and Bluey to jog through the vineyard this evening so long as the mountain lion is not nearby. Life is pretty good. My middle sister is surviving cancer and the Princess is surviving New York and my favorite World War II Veteran from Greensboro, N.C. is surviving and our investments in palm trees are growing. Life is happening. And the vines … the vines just keep being vines and they grow a little here and change a little color there. The work is finished and I finish the last sip of wine and the bottle is empty. The cupboard is full and there will be another glass tomorrow.

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