Sunday, September 14, 2008

High Tides & Harvest Moons

It must have seemed like Friday the 13th for the residents of Galveston, Texas yesterday, a Saturday. What can we do to help? Each of us can offer time, talent or money. A carpenter can help rebuild a house. A counselor can offer comfort. And so, a humble winemaker – who spent Saturday, September 14th picking 2,000 lbs. of grapes, crushing a ton of grapes, lifting and carting a ton of grapes, and pressing a ton of grapes until midnight under the harvest moon – a simple vintner can offer to the humanity of Galveston a case of wine. May a bottle of wine offer some solace to some unfortunate Texans… I’m sending a case to a relief agency in Galveston, who are on the scene and can make sure the wine – and our wishes – find a “good home” – or rather, folks who have lost theirs.

The person connecting me to Texas relief efforts is Father Leland Jones, Assistant Pastor of Grace Church, San Marcos. Father Leyland was the minister at the Episcopal church in Romona, CA last year -- his family lost their house in the fires. He now volunteers with rebuilding efforts in the community. (As he now has 11 acres of vacant land in the heart of the Romoma AVA, he asked me probing questions about planting a vineyard.)

Hurricane or fire? After the flood in the days of Noah, the Lord made a covenant with the world – the sign of which is the rainbow -- that he would no longer destroy us with water. (Our high school teacher taught us next time it would be fire.) Last October, uncontrollable wildfires tore though parts of San Diego County – over 500,000 residents were evacuated. Over 1,000 homes lost. Over a dozen people died. When I think of the hurricane, the damage is so widespread, and so many more homes are damaged. Fleeing from flames; or trapped in a house with rising water? It doesn’t matter which I choose… we live in the tinderbox of Southern California…. Wildfires are our bane. I have made my choice by being here, and planting a vineyard (which is said to be a pretty good firebreak).

There is no reason to live in fear of fires … except when smoke is on the horizon, flames are in view and the wind is blowing your way. Yesterday, I needed to overcome a different fear. “Truckophobia” – fear of careening down a hillside in a pick-up truck.

Subscribers to the Winemaker’s Journal will recall a cliffhanger incident that occurred earlier this year when a gentleman farmer hauling rocks in a rented pick-up truck down on a path in his property found himself out of control and sliding down the hill side …. When I recalled that incident the other day, I suddenly realized why I felt a bit of anxiety during yesterday’s harvest. It ends up the Ford F-150 truck is an outstanding vehicle – we loaded it with almost a ton of grape must (and everything fit in one truck – we didn’t need a second). We got it up our hill, even our 45 degree driveway without spilling a drop!

Since it handled the grapes so well and I had it rented for the whole day (we finished the pick, crush and trek back to the Blue-Merle winery before noon), I decided to drive it to down the mountain top to the Home Depot and load it with two (yes two) of the gravel bags (normal pick-up trucks can only handle one). With Bluey by side we went to face our destiny. When you fall off a horse, as Texans would say, you’ve got to get back in the saddle. I had fallen off the mountain once in a truck – and so, I must get back in the saddle and try again (this time with firm, dry ground under the wheels). If Texans had to deal with rain, floods, flying glass, and washed up rattlesnakes, then for Texas, I could face driving a pick-up truck down Blue-Merle Mountain. (Some would call this foolishness – well, at least I bought the insurance this time).

The turn into the back road of the vineyard is “blind” – you can’t see the road – only the sky … I took a breath, said a prayer (does the Lord love fools?) and spun the wheel to the right, heading down the first hill and cleared the shed. A sigh … next, hitting some rocks retaining the left side of the “road’ (hadn’t done that before… is this truck wider than normal?) and squeezed past the retainer wall with two inches to spare. A bit too close for comfort but still no damage. So far, so good. I took a break, and used a shovel to empty about 1/3 of the gravel, then started the truck, and inched as slowly as possible to the exact part of the path which gave way earlier in the year. Took a deep breath and began the descent down the hill, where if I braked to0 hard, I would skin out of control, and asking myself, "Why am I doing this?" The answer: "For Texas!"

(How much damage did the truck sustain this time? Will the rescue crew sent by USAA be able to extract the pick-up truck from the pit? Will the new fermentation of the Petit Verdot grapes be started while the moon is still full? Will the Blue-Merle Winery still be able to apply to the Federal TTB for its alcohol permit? Will the wine sent to Galveston arrive safely? Subscribe to the Winemakers’ Journal today to find out.)

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