Nick shared a vineyard road with the giant Taylor Wine Company. When he bought the property, the surveyor told him that a small part of the road is on his side of the line while the larger part of the road is on their side, which meant that every time Nick made a turn on his tractor at the end of a vineyard row, he used his right of way on their land, and they did the reverse. In the spring, the Taylor tractor sometimes left some major crevices at spots where the ground was soft and muddy—it pissed Nick off, but he never complained.
One morning in early June, while out taking a survey of the vineyard, Nick saw a large Chrysler parked on the vineyard road, at the spot where the slope toward the lake rises just a little before it plunges to a near 30-degree angle. It was a good thing he was walking the vineyard. Had he been on the tractor, he would have had to get someone to move that car. He figured it was one of the Taylor vineyard workers out doing something quick in the vineyard.
Nick walked his rows, checking shoot positions, setting some when they needed it and lopping off some when they needed the haircut. Soon, he was in the row at the end of which was the Chrysler. As he walked closer and closer to the car he could see that someone was in it, apparently reaching down to pick something up from the floor; curiously, the person inside the car remained in that position for quite some time. Finally, Nick had made it to the end of the row where he found that the person inside the car was still in the slumped position. He decided to go see if he could be of help.
It was a warm morning yet the windows of the car were closed. As Nick grew nearer he saw that the person was slumped in the front passenger seat and that the windows on that side of the car were splattered with what looked very much like blood—when he got right up to them, it certainly proved to be blood. In fact, blood was all over the interior of the car.
At first, Nick thought to knock on the window, but realizing that the person inside the car remained slumped toward the floor, he also realized that this person was likely dead. He ran back to the house to call the sheriff’s office to report what he discovered in the vineyard road. The sheriff asked a few quick questions to determine if he should dispatch an ambulance, which he said he would do. He instructed Nick not to touch anything, which he really didn’t have to say, as Nick had no intention of going back to the car.
Since that part of the road belonged to Taylor, Nick thought he should let someone at the company know, too, but he couldn’t figure out who he should call. The only person he had any relationship that worked at Taylor was Frank the vineyard manager, who he had seen many times in the vineyard and who he had a few conversations with out there. Frank not only managed some of Taylor’s vineyards, he also operated his own vineyards plus a small business selling pressed juice to home winemakers, and that was how the two made a later agreement for Nick to buy grapes from Frank. But at this point, he hadn’t a way to reach Frank, so he called the Taylor office to tell them what was going on.
When the sheriff arrived with the ambulance and two deputies, Nick walked over to the vineyard road to see what was up and to offer whatever information he could provide. He learned that the person in the car was a woman and that she had died of a shotgun to the head. Initially, the sheriff said it looked like suicide. Nick gave his account of how he discovered the car and the body and then he went home. Later, he talked with the sheriff who told him the woman lived not far from Nick’s place. She was the wife of a local grape grower who a few weeks earlier was found hanging in his barn. The man was distraught over the family’s financial condition after his grape contracts had been canceled and he could come up with no alternative market. His farm had been in the family for two generations but he had gone broke with debts mounting for farm equipment bought on a third mortgage on his home. Alone and distraught after the suicide of her husband, the woman could not go on. The sheriff said that she had recently agreed with her son to subject herself to psychiatric evaluation, but she apparently chose not to wait for that day.
Nick’s passion for wine and the agricultural life that is required to produce it was being tried on all fronts, from financial to the amount of labor involved, not to mention the loneliness throughout the week as Theresa was off in New York City earning their keep. The double suicide of grape growers caught in the middle of an upheaval in the local wine industry weighed particularly heavy on him for some time. He couldn’t help wonder that maybe this whole idea was a mistake.
For the next few days, as Nick walked the vineyard shoot thinning and adjusting, he felt every bump in the ground, every protruding rock, every blade of the persistent weeds. Through the horror he also felt each warm ray of sunshine that seemed to doggedly try its best to persuade him that everything will be all right.
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May 2010. All rights reserved.