Spring was in the offing but you wouldn’t have known it by the air temperature. Still, it was a clear evening and so Nick decided to walk to Betty’s place. He grabbed a flashlight, a loaf of his homemade baguette as offering, threw on his parka and made his way through the icy mix of snow and road salt that the town insists on dumping on roads, no matter what it does to vehicles and to plants.
The quarter-mile walk past the vast acres of dormant vineyards would take only a few minutes, but it was just enough time to breathe deeply and to think. Considering where he was going, and why, he thought immediately of the past decade with Theresa. They had done a lot together in those ten years of marriage, and they’d done it all in their knock-around way. Each held down no fewer than three jobs in that span of time; when one got bored with a job, the other acted as encouragement to quit and to move on.
The biggest decision they made together was the one to move to the Finger Lakes and start a winery—actually, it was Nick’s decision, but Theresa didn’t argue about it. She was there when the idea hit Nick. It was after a day in Napa Valley spent with a local winery rep that impressed Nick so much with his stories of the wine life that he just had to try it. It was his wine passion that led him to California, so it seemed an easy extension of that passion to want to produce wine. Yet, it was a big decision, because of the size and nature of the commitment. Once into this operation, they each knew that neither could just quit and move on if boredom set in, and each was turning into mid-life, the time when both energy and opportunity have a way of slipping away. This could turn out to be the last great move—or the last not-so-great one!
They were good for each other, and he loved Theresa much. He had never cheated on her and as far as he knew, she hadn’t cheated on him. As he came closer to Betty’s house, he felt uneasy.
If he was going to cheat, he wasn't sure that it should be with someone twenty years his senior. He remembered that experience all too vividly. It happened with a woman he had come to meet when he was 24. The circumstances of their meeting evaded him all the years later. He remembered only that she and her husband were in their mid to upper forties, just the right time for the guy to start feeling like he had missed everything in life and that he needed to feel young and vibrant again, not to mention virile. He started going around with a young woman and he flaunted his affair in his wife’s face. Wanting to get back at him, she picked Nick to have an affair with, and since she was an extremely attractive woman, Nick was ready to oblige. But the affair lasted only briefly; it ended abruptly on the evening he went to pick her up to go to a show and she introduced him to her son, who had just graduated from college and was just a year or two younger than Nick.
“No way,” he said to no one, aloud, “I’ve never cheated on Theresa and I ain’t about to start.” Then, he intrepidly knocked on Betty’s door.
“Hello. You must be Nick. I’m Tom. Come in, come in; it’s cold out there.”
To Nick’s great relief, Betty’s husband did not have to work late after all.
The evening was warm and comfortable. Both Betty and Tom were good hosts. They made an attractive couple, too, these White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants from Philadelphia who avoided becoming effete by engaging in hard labor in the vineyard. The work lined their once pale Anglo features with hard brown lines cut by wind and sun. The added depth rendered Betty more attractive than his impression of her on their first meeting earlier that day. Now past the apprehension, Nick began to feel regret that Tom hadn't had to work late.
Betty prepared braised lamb shanks and Tom brought out a bottle of Guigal Gigondas. The bread was well received and the conversation was especially enlightening. Over the course of the evening, the couple gave Nick the impression of what a long marriage can do, especially after Betty described their life together as an “armed truce.” But she was being facetious. The two were welded. They had moved to the area about 30 years earlier. They bought 30 acres of vineyard that had growing on it two native Northeast varieties and one French hybrid variety called Seyval. They systematically pulled out vines and replanted with Riesling and Chardonnay, in an attempt to capitalize from what they and others saw as a coming growth industry in the region.
The 1976 wine revolution that sprang in California wasn’t the only revolution in the domestic wine world. In fact, a revolution began in the Finger Lakes in 1962, the year of the first successful commercial release of Riesling and Chardonnay at Gold Seal Winery. This fact is what drew Tom and Betty to the region, and it also was why Nick wound up their neighbor.
When Nick told Tom that he had planned to plant Cabernet Franc as well as Riesling, Tom frowned and told Nick, “Trying to make red wine here is too lofty a goal. This is a white wine region. Get used to it. If we had been growing red grapes, we would have lost all our money years ago. I’ve been tracking it, and I found that the Finger Lakes region gives you a decent red grape vintage one out of every four or five years.”
Nick protested, but being older and wiser, Tom did not press the issue. Instead, he asked, “So how are things going with your plans?”
“Well, until I had a talk with the local bank manager, I thought I was on track. But now I have to revamp my plans to accommodate the fact that the banker is definitely not interested in loaning me any money.”
Tom snickered, “If you spoke to McCann, I know exactly what happened. These locals aren’t exactly trusting of outsiders. Hell, Betty and I have been here for thirty years, we raised four children here, I’ve served on the town planning board, and we are still considered outsiders that can’t be trusted. That’s probably why some of them spread that nasty rumor about Betty and younger men—you’ve heard that already, I’m sure.”
”Oh, no,” he lied, “I hadn’t heard that, but it is funny.”
“Anyway, it’s in their nature—rurals don’t like to change and they certainly don’t like someone from somewhere else trying to change things for them. It’s kind of like political conservatism, which, incidentally, is all around you, if you haven’t noticed. When we started pulling out the native and hybrid vines we pissed off a lot of people, and we pissed them off even more when we were proven right, after the largest winery in the region closed up and the farmers lost their market. So, tell me what happened at the bank.”
“It was quick. He looked at my financials, looked at me, looked back at my financials, looked at me and then commented as if I weren’t there, ‘So, Nick's from New York City, eh.’ Then, he looked at me straight in the eye and said that the bank couldn’t lend me money for my business start up. When I asked what the problem was he simply said that the bank doesn’t trust agriculture. When I pointed out that the whole region was supported by agriculture he said, 'that was then and this is now.'”
Nick never was much good at asking for money. He had always gone his own way. If he didn’t have the money that he needed to start something, he didn’t start it until he could raise the money through hard work. If he couldn’t raise the money, he changed directions. But this time he really wanted to get financing and to get a winery going, because the things he had read about starting a winery convinced him that the most important thing was to be well capitalized.
“What’s your alternate plan,” Tom asked.
“Can I answer that later?”
That reply told Tom all he needed to know about what was in store for Nick…
If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
April 2010. All rights reserved.