The best harvest party in all of San Diego County was at Joe the Wino’s estate of course where as many as two hundred volunteers assembled shortly after dawn for a champagne toast and a quick lesson in grape picking 101.
“This is a clipper,” said Joe, “And this is your finger. May the two never meet in our vineyard.”
“Amen,” rejoined the crowd.
“If you see a raisin, think of it as a sugar pill that will enhance the fermentation – put it in the bucket,” Joe said. “Try to keep the leaves out and just pick everything you see. We have a team of quality control experts who will inspect every grape before it goes in.” Joe raised his glass of Dom Perignon champagne and the assembled raised their cups of Costco sparkling wine. “May you have fun, be safe, and let the harvest begin. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” And the herd downed their glasses picked up buckets and clippers and headed out into the vines.
This event – a social high point for the year for many attendees as Joe the Wino opened his wine cellar to any and all of legal age (to the consternation of Janet who used her best efforts to cut costs and even suggested substituting fish bait for the salmon roe that decorated the canapés) was the pinnacle of country living and quite possibly one of the last bastions of free love for adults of a certain age in San Diego. Marriages resulted from couples who had met at the harvest party. A gal might walk up to a guy and ask “May I pick with you?” while a guy might ask a gal with a heavy bucket of grapes at her feet, “May I carry that for you?” And then they would chat while picking or carrying and find out they had something in common and a bottle of wine later new friendships were sealed under the olive grove adjacent to the vineyard and promises were made. And lest anyone forget the venue’s mantra a sign at the top of the vineyard proclaimed “Zero to Naked in 1.2 Bottles of Wine.” For a day at least Bacchus and Venus ruled and Fidel was left with the task of picking up panties and thongs from the vineyard floor the next work day.
Fidel – wearing a freshly ironed black eye patch over the eye he lost - was commander of the Gator during Harvest – that is, Joe the Wino’s Gator – driving it as his own. He slammed on the breaks and skidded to a halt two feet behind Bootlegger’s knee. “Que pasa amigo?!” he called.
“Amigo my ass. How are you?”
“Fine. Did you get a new dog?”
“No, but I got a coyote. He’s eating my grapes. At first, I thought it was you stealing my grapes, but I found out it was a coyote.”
“They don’t eat grapes.”
“They don’t eat your grapes because yours are no good. They love our grapes because they’re delicious.”
“You should put water out for him, he’s thirsty.” Fidel always left buckets of fresh water out for the coyotes, so they wouldn’t chew through the irrigation drip lines of his clients.
“He ignores the water and eats the grapes.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Can I shoot it for you?”
Fidel was disappointed and he shot Bootlegger a zinger. “Have you seen Bill lately? He’s selling a lot of wine.”
“So I heard.”
“How’s your wine selling?” Another insult.
“I have no time to sell it. I have to work for a living" - he didn’t need to add unlike some people. Fidel took the jab and countered.
“You should get a tasting room.”
“You should sell our throw-away wine to your friends.”
“Let me build a tasting room for you. You have a lot of money.”
“I had a lot of money and spent it all on wine, women and you, bastard. I gave you all of my money and now my vineyard wiring is falling apart.”
“You should let me come over and fix it.”
“So I can give you more money? Gracias non.”
“Do you want me to come over and shoot the coyote for you?”
“A coyote shooting a coyote? Gracias non.” A vineyardista picking grapes accidently butted her butt against his in the pathway. “Good morning,” he said to her with a broad smile. “Let’s do that dance again - the vineyard bump.” Anything could happen in the vineyard that day with women and wine and men and the grapes. She giggled, returned the smile and walked by as Bootlegger admired her shapely form and vineyard sway. He closed his eyes and inhaled the natural aromas from her wake and wondered what scent his winemaking muse 3,000 miles away was wearing at that moment.
“Hey amigo, you want to go to Tijuana?” asked Fidel. “I’ll show you around. They have a lot of pretty senoritas there.”
“When Donald Trump is elected president he’ll send you back to Mexico.”
“Puta madre,” he spat at Trump’s name.
“How’s your knee?” Bootlegger asked.
“It’s pretty good. I can walk up and down hills again. I’m going to get the other one fixed after the harvest season. Then I can come over and work for you.”
“That must cost a lot of money?”
“No, it’s almost free.”
“I give you all my money and now I have to pay for your health care with my taxes?”
Fidel switched gears. “You should get another dog.”
“You should pay taxes and pay your people fairly – el Pirata.”
A helicopter circled the vineyard. One of volunteers who lived in an apartment downtown asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s the water police,” Bootlegger answered. “They’re looking for water hogs.” He called over to Fidel, “Hey amigo, these vines are green and the clusters are pretty big – how much water did you cut back?”
“Fifteen percent this month?” he asked surprised but not surprised. The mandate was 35%. “We cut our water by 50%.”
“Your vines look like shit – you should let me take care of your vines. I’ll make them green.”
“Keep your hands off of our vines. Our grapes taste good. That helicopter is after you, man.”
“It’s not my fault,” said Fidel, “It’s Janet. She won’t cut the water.”
“If the water police don’t get you, it will be immigration. You should pay your people more so they don’t rat on you.”
“You should mind your own business” and with that Fidel pressed the accelerator of the Gator and called out heh heh hehhh with a pirate’s laugh shouting “out of my way” and as he pulled out he admonished one of his crew taking a sip of water as temperatures rose, “Hey, stop looking at the senoritas and get back to work.”