Tying was going smoothly. Theresa held her own, when she was out there to help—Nick could not keep his hands off her. They had been separated for lengths of time in the past, but nothing like what this situation had created. Their marriage had become a weekend affair, with the rest of the week’s communication by telephone, but what wonderful weekend affairs they were having. Theresa was tired from the trip on Friday but not so tired as to be immune from Nick’s advances. It was Saturday, however, that gave new meaning to the phrase, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” On Sunday, she was back on the road and they both were miserable.
Nick’s form of a cold shower was to spend Sunday afternoons doing the business bookkeeping in his little office, which he referred to as “the torture chamber.” After a bout with the financial chains that bound them, he marveled at how they managed to eat, let alone pay the mortgage. Yet, he was impressed by his own talent for juggling. The arrival of the New York winery license gave him one more thing to consider on bookkeeping Sunday: when and how would he get things started.
He also knew that there would be no wine to sell for more than one year, and to face that reality he had a plan to apply for an off-premise tasting license. Farm wineries were allowed a few off-site tasting rooms in the state and along with their wines, the wineries could sell their neighbor’s wines. The state’s liquor authority had assured him that he could get one of these licenses within 30 days. He wanted to get an off-site tasting room up and running by Memorial Day—five weeks away. He had already signed a lease on the space and started having the place renovated in preparation. With the winery license in hand, he had just enough time to receive the off-premise license if he filed right away, and so on this particular Sunday he filled out the application and sent a check; then, he plopped into bed early.
Living a rural, agricultural life is nothing if it isn’t a fixation on the weather. April had proved so far cooperative for the work in the vineyard, and so Nick was pleased to be ahead of schedule. Monday through Wednesday saw warm, sunny days and cool but not cold nights. In fact, not once thus far that April did the region experience a frost, which was unusual to say the least. But when Thursday arrived, it was a different story. A clear, still, cloudless night brought with it a frost sometime after midnight; at six Thursday morning, the temperature registered 19 degrees F. There was no way he could tie canes to the trellis in that kind of cold, for fear he would snap canes—besides, he couldn’t do the work wearing winter gloves.
The other thing about an agricultural life is that if you can’t get one chore done for whatever reason, there are always a half-dozen or so in line needing your attention. He decided to spend the day getting the tractor ready for spring and summer, and also to make arrangements to take the petrochemical applicator’s test that he had to pass before he would be allowed to spray his vineyards. Before he knew it, the workday neared its close. The time had come to decide on the wine to bring to the winemakers dinner.
Harold, the owner of the restaurant where the dinners were held reveled in his role as host. He loved both wine and winemakers. His wine preference leaned toward Bordeaux—Saint Julien, to be exact. Harold considered Chateau Talbot to be royalty. Since he was not out to make money on the dinners, but instead did them for fun, Talbot showed up quite frequently at the table, a fact that may also have been calibrated to push others to bring wines of equal status. Harold charged a flat $15.00 for a four-course meal but with one proviso: each attendee had to bring at least one, preferably two bottles of wine. Many winemakers brought their own wines to the dinner, but many others brought all kinds of wines. Nick decided on a bottle of Bodegas Bilbainas Viña Pomal Rioja and an Albert Pic Chablis.
He picked up Joel at his house and off they went with their bottles of wine, each in a brown bag. The idea for the evening was that all the wines were to be consumed blind, directly from bottles wrapped in bags so that no one would know what was in the glass. The blind tasting was set up to stimulate discussion about the wines and as a learning experience. Harold collected the wines as everyone came into the restaurant and then he took them into the back where he arranged them in some order to try to place certain wines with the foods as a pairing. He was the only one in the room who knew which wines were in the bottles as they were served. He loved watching the group discuss, and he loved handing out clues, which he sometimes did falsely, to watch them squirm a little. It wasn’t uncommon for winemakers to have a hard time picking their own wines out in the blind tasting, even when they brought them. Some went so far as to trash their own wines, especially when someone else brought them and the winemakers weren’t practicing caution in their assessments.
Joel had trained in France and had worked at a few wineries in California before making his way to the Finger Lakes. He harbored a deep disdain for both Northeastern grapes and French-American hybrids. Each time he knowingly encountered one, his face contorted. But there were times when he encountered them unknowingly, like at the dinner the night of Nick’s first attendance. Knowing his distaste for each grape species, the group was particularly delighted when after Joel had proclaimed what he thought to be a terrific representation of a fine Left Bank Bordeaux whose producer he could not identify, the unveiling exposed the wine to be the French-American hybrid Chambourcin that had been produced in Pennsyvlania.
Seating was not prearranged so it was by chance that Nick wound up seated next to John Peterson, the owner and winemaker of a small winery located just a few miles south of him. The two had met only briefly a few years earlier before Nick moved to the region. He was on a trip of the wineries tasting and also seeking property. It so happened that John was a fan of each wine that Nick had brought to the dinner. After dinner and wine, the custom was to end the night with beer nightcaps at the bar while rehashing the events of the evening, the previous week, and the century. Mostly, winery owners didn't attend the dinners, not unless they were also the winemaker for their winery. Much conversation twirled around the things that winemakers had to put up with at work, especially dealing with their often clueless owner bosses. John Peterson was an owner-winemaker but he seemed not to mind how the others talked about the owners. He Knew that Nick was also an owner-winemaker and since he happened to be fond of the two wines that Nick had brought to the dinner, they wound up in a lengthy conversation at the bar, at which time Nick discovered that John had need for Aurora grapes for a white table wine blend that he had recently put on the market to great success.
Nick went home that evening with a little buzz on and happy to have become an official member of the local winemaking community. He also felt more learned about wine and the extent of his abilities in a blind tasting, plus he was content that with the sale of his Aurora crop to John, he would have half the mortgage payment covered for that year.
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Copyright Thomas Pellechia
April 2010. All rights reserved.