mountain bushfires having driven over 50 baboons into the Franschhoek Valley South African wine region in search of food—it got me to thinking about the baboons I’ve encountered over the years in the wine business.
The first baboon was that bank manager who didn’t believe in my business plan to start a winery. His response to my reasonable request for a business loan was that I had two things going against me: I never operated a vineyard and winery before, and I wasn’t wealthy. You see, banks lend either to people who don’t need the money or to people who might as well have been wearing a mask when they entered the bank, like derivatives traders.
What really pisses me off about the bank baboon is how right he was about my chance for success.
The next baboon I met actually came in a family. They were supposed to work my vineyards with me, and they did—sometimes, when they got to bed sober the night before, and when they needed money so that they didn’t have to go to bed sober the next night. When they did come to work, these baboons never skipped a break or lunch, but they had no trouble at all skipping vines or even rows of vines.
The baboons in Albany may have been the best, if you like baboons, I mean. One of the things about this clan was their penchant for yellow. If I sent my monthly wine reports to them and didn’t submit on yellow paper, in triplicate, something mysterious would take place and the records of my wine movements vanished. These baboons also had no sense of timing; they sent permits days or weeks after they were needed. The only thing that saved me from wanting to kill these baboons was their consistency, especially when you asked for a rule reading—the answer was always NO. I learned that the best way to deal with a group of baboons like that was not to talk to them at all, unless they started the conversation.
Having gotten the courage to go out into the world and try to sell wine to retailers gave me the opportunity for my next baboon sighting. These were the wine and spirit retailers who spent hours banging out tickets from the Lotto machine but had no time to sell wine that was on their shelves. Their cousins, the monkeys, gave me a terrific reason that they did not buy wine from a small New York winery: “I don’t need anymore monthly invoices.”
Some baboons were ok, even when they weren’t. That would be the ones known as tourists. They bought wine and that made them ok, but they also wanted to talk, and that made them baboons, especially the ones who just finished tasting a Chardonnay and a Riesling and then asked, “What’s the difference between Chardonnay and Riesling?” A baboon should always be silent.
The biggest and truly best baboon of them all, however, was I. I thought that I could start my winery on a shoestring. Well, that’s not exactly what made me a baboon. I thought that by starting my winery on a shoestring I could build it into a small wine family dynasty through hard work and dedication to quality. I certainly worked hard and I tried to learn all that I could to keep the quality up. In the end, after eight years on the job, I was left with no shoestrings and a pair of shoes eight years old. But a baboon doesn’t need shoes, right?
In South Africa, the wine people complain that their baboons know exactly when the grapes are ripe enough to eat, which happens to be about a week before harvest, and they have been known to devour two to three tons of grapes in a week; they like Chenin Blanc and of course Pinot Noir.
You could say that for the South African wine industry the only thing they have to fear is feral itself. But then, one of the wine people has been quoted to say that the decrease in grape crops caused by the baboons resulted in better quality wine.
I suppose had I access in the Finger Lakes to real instead of human baboons to trim my crop, this baboon might have had a successful winery on his four hands!
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Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2010. All rights reserved.
March 2010. All rights reserved.