Although he was in his late thirties, Nick had already established a curmudgeonly reputation. From the time of his teens, close friends had teased him with the name “grump.” Family members who knew him since his birth remember a precocious and gregariously happy child, but over time, displays of happiness seemed to recede, replaced by a grim outlook with respect to the world around him. His parents were from peasant stock; they had witnessed in the “Old Country” the results of having one foot in feudalism and the other in capitalist poverty. They were intimate with a few wars and a major depression, the genesis of their collective cynicism. Their life was so filled with struggle for so long that they were in their forties before they had children, first a girl and then Nick. By that time, his parents’ outlook on life had been ossified, and it surely must have rubbed off on Nick. But underneath his cynicism and overall grumpiness, Nick harbored volcanic emotionality that was prone to eruption at the slightest good deed done for him or a near-touching moment. That moment came when he had to say goodbye to James.
You don’t just pound posts in April. When the posts heave, and after they are pounded back into the earth, the tension on the trellis wire is slackened. So, you’ve got to tighten the wires. In many vineyards, the end post, which often is a sturdier, thicker post that is pounded in on an angle facing away from the row for stability, either has holes bored into where the trellis wire end is slipped through and then wound to tautness, or it receives the wire wrapped around it and tightened. Nick’s vineyard was broken into five plots. He and James pounded the posts of each plot first, but before moving from one plot to the next to pound posts, they went back through the rows to tighten the trellis wire. This is hard and time-consuming work, but without financing, Nick had to make decisions where best to spend what little money he had to get the winery going. The sad part of the situation was that the hard work would not bring in a profit—in fact, all it would do, if he was lucky, would almost pay the mortgage payments for a year. The question was: would he be lucky.
In any case, the tedious hard work gave Nick and James a large chunk of time to get to know each other. He found his nephew an intelligent, shy young man with no direction, the kind of kid who grew exceedingly bored in school waiting for the others to catch up to him and so he tuned out—a major daydreamer. Nick had known James’ dad for most of his life. The man turned out to be a loser of the highest magnitude, screwing up everything he touched, leaving Nick’s sister to be not only the breadwinner in the family, but also mother of two children and guardian to a man-child husband. Knowing this, Nick instigated many conversations with James over the ten or so days that they worked and ate together. He gave whatever advice he could. A love for his nephew swelled up to such a degree that at the bus station, as they hugged and promised to do this again in the summer, Nick gave way to his emotions and burst into warm tears in front of the other passengers in the station, embarrassing James, but in a good way.
With James off for home, and his tears dried, Nick had to hurry back to the vineyard to get started on tying the canes to the trellis so that he could control the direction and stability of the growing leaves and fruit of the vines. The weather promised to make this one of the early springs of the Finger Lakes region, and he did not want to lose the momentum for fear that the buds would blossom, the shoots would form and he would screw up some of the vines in the tying process and kill the important primary buds. It was going to take a lot of time to finish readying the vineyard for the coming growing season, but Theresa would be home on weekends and she would help with the tying.
The drive back from the bus station takes about an hour, just enough time to stew over that winery license from New York State that had yet shown up. Also, it was enough time to think about his luck. If the recent past was any guide, the only luck that he could expect was bad. It was the late 1980s. One large Finger Lakes winery, Gold Seal, the one that was in the vanguard of the local Vitis vinifera revolution, had already gone under, thanks to a shifting wine market combined with corporate greed and shenanigans perpetrated by the winery’s owner, Seagram. The other and much larger winery Taylor/Great Western was hanging in, but by the slimmest thread. Nick’s vineyard had originally been under contract with Taylor but the contract was broken about one week after Nick closed on the property, as the company began to back out of its commitments to local growers. Seagram had recently taken over Taylor from Coca Cola, and the giant spirits company would soon bring Taylor to the same fate as Gold Seal.
Nick’s vineyard was one part Catawba and one part Aurora, both rather useless grapes for his purposes. He was supposed to be yanking them out and replanting, but after the meeting with the banker that plan went with all his other plans. The idea was for him to replant that summer leaving him for the first few vintages to procure the grapes he needed for his winery. The new plan was to grow the grapes that were there and sell them to whomever would buy them and of course procure the grapes that he needed to produce his wine until he could raise the money to replant. But with the local wine industry in turmoil in part because of the types of wines that Catawba and Aurora produce, who would buy those grapes?
Back in town, during a stop at the post office Nick ran into a brief splash of good luck. The license was indeed in the mailbox plus he ran into Joel, a winemaker who recently came to the area to work at the nearby vanguard winery where the Riesling and Chardonnay grapes for the first locally successful commercial vinifera wines had been propagated. They had met before at a local wine industry meeting. Joel was of course happy for Nick about the license arrival, but he had another reason for wanting to talk with Nick.
“Now that you are a bona fide Farm Winery owner and winemaker, you should be interested in why I wanted to talk with you,” said Joel.
“When I didn’t see you at the past two monthly winemaker dinners held at the Pleasant Valley Inn I figured maybe you don’t know about ‘em and so I wanted to tell you about it and that you are welcome to join us.”
Joel was right: Nick wasn’t aware of the monthly dinners, but he certainly was interested in attending.
Joel said that the dinners are the third Thursday of each month, “that’s next week for this month. Let’s drive down together.”
Joel had rented a house that was on the way from Nick’s place to Hammondsport, where the dinners were held.
“It’s a date,” he said, “and now I’ve got to think about how to celebrate tonight the arrival of this license.”
The two wound up celebrating that evening together at a local tavern, where they began to solidify a friendship.
Nick didn’t know it of course, but the dinner the following week would provide him not only induction into the local wine world, but also a market for half his crop.
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.