Saturday, September 12, 2015

Serena Loses

Dear Jon, 
I'm  glad to hear you witnessed first hand the U.S. Open yesterday.  So, let me tell you the rest of the story.

Back in the day, you went to Choate and I went to the tennis court. The house my parents bought had a tennis court and I played and I played and I played and I dreamed of playing professional tennis. I dreamed of beating Nastase. I remember that dream. Even now.  I went to the U.S. Open at the West Side Tennis Club when it was played on grass and I saw Ken Rosewall play and my backhand was often like his. The next year they switched to "har-true" courts - a slower surface similar to clay and I saw the final between Chris Everett and Evonne Goolagong (Chrissie won) and I saw what was probably the longest semi-final in history, every stroke, back and forth, five sets, an amazing come from behind victory when Monolo Orontes beat my hero Guillermo Villas - the match probably ended at midnight - oh, before that, we saw Jimmy Conners whip Bjorn Borg and Conners easily won.. And after the match dad and I grabbed a snack at the local deli and there was Mike and Flo Blanchard the famous umpires who had called the match and we had club house passes and the whole shibang and I remember talking with Bud Collins (the TV commentator) about Villas - boy was he good that year.  The finals the next day were Conners against Orontes - and Conners was favored. He had finished 2nd at  Wimbledon that year, losing to Arthur Ashe - who had ropy doped him with wide angle serves. Conners was at the top of his game but not invincible - because Ashe, a black man who now has his statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia along with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson - had beat Conners and earned that spot among Richmond's famous. Dad and I went to Art's delicatessen in Westport the next morning and bought the famous Art's Italian combo (OMG, why am I not a heart patient now? - it must be the wine - that one sandwich had more meat than a Texas longhorn ) and a roast beast sandwich and we brought them to the matches and we sat right behind the players and watched them hit and return and drive and return and slam and return and Orantes would just manage to get the ball back and he managed to get everything back and then Conners would miss. And he missed again. And he missed again. Then Orantes hit a winner. And another winner. And Conners another miss. And he lost the match. Since then, I've been to the tennis at Roland Garros in Paris several times and I've walked on grass tennis courts in Australia (where I bumped into Rod Laver in a hot tub) and I've driven by the tennis complex in Melbourne and I've been on the tube in London and seen the stop for Wimbledon and it's on my bucket list and would you like to go for our 60th birthday or sooner since life is short? And when the USLTA dropped the L and the lawn from its name and changed the venue from the West Side Tennis Club where we used to get club house passes and built a new stadium near the Flushing Meadow Park I went there for the the inaugural match. Yes, I was there. And since those days, there has been marriage and kids and who has time for tennis and then there's the vineyard and the grapes and the wine. What was once the center of my life means nothing. But to know that on Sept 11th you were in New York and you went to the tennis - I'm glad to hear it. We picked the grapes today and there's a drought and the harvest was small and as Henry the Fifth said at Agincourt the fewer grapes the greater glory there shall be and our friends came and helped us pick them and then we stomped them and there's a heat wave and it's really hot and we had no sleep and the beer is cold and it's great to hear from you. On the anniversary of September 11th old friends should reconnect because who knows what's around the corner. Amen.

P.S. - About that wine I gave you.... You should drink it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Kama Sutra of Winemaking

Lifting the veil of nets is equivalent to “you may kiss the bride” and after the celebration, after the guests have left the marriage will be consummated inside, behind closed doors.  It’s a sultry end of August evening and the vintner returns home from work. He slips into something more comfortable, walks into the wedding chamber and unbuttons, then removes his shirt not wanting to stain it. As a magician pulls a cloth off a dining table without moving a plate or spilling a drop of wine, the experienced winemaker yanks with authority the bedsheet covering the bride to reveal her full nakedness and vulnerability lying underneath.  The time has come. The vintner guides his tool with his hand pushing it against the membrane then shoves, presses, pushes again with a bit more force. The result is as inevitable as young girls growing up and marrying and the vintner’s staff breaks through the layer of grapeskins to the ever so warm lava and he penetrates deeper and hits her backwall and when he pulls it out the skin is broken and the next thrust practically glides in and he holds it deep and retracts then starts a steady rhythm of pushes, thrusts with nectar from the world’s sweetest fruit surrounding his staff. And now the man, shirtless on this balmy summer night, has his rhythm going punching, thrusting, pushing and he hears waves from the ocean and the crash of splashing liquid and a fountain of bubbling, foaming juices and he gently slides his finger into the hole and feels the yeasty warmth of the bubbling fermentation and he pulls it out and licks the sweetest of juices and he is pleased. Fruit of the vine.  Ambrosia of the gods. A gift from God to mankind for all eternity, amen.  And, he’s back making steady thrusts for he knows he has a few more minutes and he works at the sides of the trough making sure to touch every spot and his muscles are working, drops of sweat appear on his brow, biceps bulge, the dog is barking, triceps ripple and he takes his tool and plunges it as deep as he can into the middle of the vat, slips and falls into a purple bath covered in grape juice and he’s laughing.  All his adult life he has attempted to re-enter a womb – and he has succeeded. As he climbs up from his frothy grape juice bath his dog licks his face. All he can do is laugh again at his silly self and command the dog not to jump in.

After cleaning himself and laying down to sleep he achieves a higher level of consciousness that winemakers for generations, for centuries, since the beginning of time have known – there is nothing more erotic than punching down the cap of skins of fermenting wine. The next morning when punching down again he films himself, shirtless, mano a vino, and emailed the footage to the three muses, who were mildly aroused as each watched her suitor thrust his tool through the skin and with the skill of a sensuous man make love with a batch of wine with such finesse that their under garments grew damp.  Afterwards, Bootlegger hung the darkly stained sheet out to dry as proof that the marriage had been consummated. Every morning and every evening for the next seven days he made love in this way to the wine, without falling into the vat. He vowed that he next time he found himself in the middle of a hot tub of fermenting grape juice he would be kissing, caressing, holding, squeezing the love of his life and not licked by a dog.
Nothing is more erotic than punching down a cap of grapes. Except for, perhaps, watching a woman do it and he was inspired to walk over to Cougar Karrianne’s to see if he could assist her with her punch downs and texted her he was on the way. She looked tired. “How are you?” he asked.
“I’ve got a terrible yeast infection,” she smiled. He knew enough not to inquire further.
By the fourth evening of this ritual honeymoon Bootlegger was starting to feel a little tired and by the end of the week this labor of physical love for the grape was becoming more like work. And yet, with the beginning of each winemaking season, it was exciting as sharing secrets of the karma sutra with a partner for the first time, breathing each other’s life force, embraced and intertwined – as tightly wound together as a grape vine clinging to a strong pole.

Of course there was bottling when you plunged the cork into the hole of the bottle with the corking machine which was about as obscene as winemaking became and then there was pressing the wine, kachink, kachink, kachink, back and forth, back and forth with the ratchet press atop a wooden basket and watching the Cougar with her little grunts press with her tiny yet almighty torque was also a treat. But the best was fermentation and breaking the skin of the cap for the first time and the gushing sweet lava. Punching it down was calming and the cares of the world disappeared, at least for the moment.  What was that on the radio about Bear Stearns? Who cares.  What was that about Lehman Brothers? Something about credit default swaps.  All that could wait as he was absorbed, hypnotized, entranced by the wine.
On the other side of Blue-Merle Country Joe the Wino called an extraordinary weekend meeting of his board of directors at the first sign of economic turn down.  It was as clear to the board as a satellite photograph of a category 5 hurricane that an economic storm of historic proportions would soon wreak financial chaos. Their course of action was decisive. They made plans to cut their workforce before the downturn hit. By trimming now, they would survive.  And they would follow Machiavelli’s advice that if cuts were necessary, they would cut deeply and huddle, wrap their philanthropic arms around the remaining staff. At the same time at other board rooms in San Diego County, Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40, Ken Blanchard, head of the Blanchard Companies and other businessmen who practiced “Servant Leadership” saw the same warning signs, the same storm, the same approaching disaster and asked themselves how the hell can we get through this downturn with all staff intact?
When Bootlegger turned 16 years old his parents told him to get a job and he found work as a busboy at a French restaurant and developed a taste for fine food and fine wines and salty humor as he worked with men and woman twice his age. One night, Brendan the head waiter asked the staff, “What’s the difference between panic and terror?”
“I don’t know,” replied the 16-year old virgin.

“Panic is the first time you can’t come twice,” answered the Irishman, “And terror is the second time you can’t come once.” As Bootlegger reached the age of his former colleagues and beyond, he often thought about them . And that joke of Brendan’s came back to him the morning he removed the sheet from the nuptial bed of the fermentation to find his bride frigid. The fermentation had stopped. Early. She wasn’t done. He had a ton of grapes that tasted somewhere between hard cider and Manischewitz that had unexpectedly stopped fermenting. Terror.

(C) Copyright 2015 Craig Justice All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Harvest at Joe The Wino's In the Time of Drought

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?”
“Shoot it.”
“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.”
“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.”

Si patron,” replied Rodrigo cursing under his breath as Fidel sped down the hill “hijo de puta” and went back to work. “That fucking son of bitch riding around like a big shot in that fucking gator ….” 

At the bottom of the hill, one of his crew lifted hundred pound lugs of Brunello-clone grapes into the Gator and Fidel drove the cargo to the shaded crush pad at the top of the hill where another day laborer lifted the lugs and set them on a scale as Janet, Joe the Wino’s spouse, counted every pound. Fidel walked over to an ice cooler used by the gringos, grabbed a beer and took a long drink as the swarm of locust volunteers worked their way up the hill picking ten tons of grapes one bunch at a time while a covey of Guatemalan women he assembled - paying them half the minimum wage and pocketing the rest – diligently inspected each and every berry under Janet’s watchful eyes before sending the perfect ones to the crusher and damaged ones to the compost.....

To be continued. (C) Copyright 2015 All Rights Reserved. Craig Justice. "About That Wine I Gave You"