Monday, May 3, 2010

One Romance contd. (8)

The one thing about grape growing Nick realized right away that he would not warm to was petrochemical spraying. Not knowing much about so-called natural controls, he relied heavily on what the local cooperative extension people recommended as well as what local grape growers did. He learned what he could about the spraying program, passed the simpleton test to gain a license to use the chemicals and had at it—while holding his nose. He knew by the acrid release of the powders that he mixed with water in the spray tank that there was danger in those sprays; the smells reminded him of his tour of duty in Vietnam.

There were sprays to be applied during pre-bloom, sprays at bloom, and sprays soon after bloom. He hated the job. Once, in the middle of making passes through the vineyard rows, all of a sudden he felt no resistance from the tractor. A quick glance backward told him why: the sprayer had separated from the tractor power take off and was left sitting a few yards back in the row. The pin that held the sprayer arm in place on the power take off had somehow worked its way out. He had to walk over to his neighbor’s place to seek help to re-hitch the sprayer and he was damned lucky someone was home.

His work in the vineyard took place in the cool early morning spring. On Memorial Day Weekend Nick tried to get a certain amount of work done before making his way to the off-site tasting room about seven miles south for he and Theresa to open up at noon. The sprayer had separated from the tractor on the Friday of that weekend, opening day, and so it meant that he would be out there the following morning to finish up—provided rain didn’t mess up both the schedule and the chance to get the chemicals on the vines the requisite few hours required before a rain for them to be effective.

He spent most of the previous week doing what needed doing in the vineyard and around the property in the early morning and then spending afternoons making the rounds to local wineries buying stock for the off-site tasting room. He had met many of the people before, but this was a good opportunity to form relationships with his compatriot wine producers. The experience slowly gave him the sense that local winemakers were a friendly, sharing lot but the winery owners who were not winemakers often weren’t as sharing. In fact, many of them seemed outright suspicious.

It didn’t help that at some of his stops he was forced to listen to an owner complain about the owner down the road or to spew jealousies concerning the fortunes of other winery owners, if not contempt. It amazed Nick that the owners were so free with their invective. It didn’t seem to occur to them that their conversations made him wonder what these people would in the future say about him or what they already were saying.

At first, Nick thought he would seek to buy wine from these wineries to taste and sell at his shop by asking for the price they would normally sell to wholesaler distributors and to get at least one bottle free for tastings each weekend. That idea fell apart after his first two visits, when each owner brought up the subject before Nick could, and each owner flatly stated that he would have to pay for the wine what retailers pay for it. That meant one of two things for Nick: either he would lose money on each bottle that he opened for tasting or he would have to charge a tasting fee large enough to cover the cost of each bottle he opened. The law had recently been amended to allow farm wineries to charge a tasting fee, and every winery owner knew it; therefore, none would budge on the price of wine to him and none seemed to care to give away a bottle each weekend.

By the Thursday evening, he had stocked the tasting room with what he thought would be enough wine for tastings and for sales. He settled on charging one dollar to taste three wines. This arrangement, he thought, would be cheap enough not to bother tourists plus it would serve to prevent people from tasting too much wine. The Memorial Day Weekend crowd, such as it could have been called a crowd, proved that he was wrong on each count.

A few things went against Nick and his new tasting room business: many of the farm wineries hadn’t yet started to charge a tasting fee, which put him at a disadvantage with tourists who had stopped at some of the wineries before getting to his place; and the fact that tourists are more enamored by the romantic notion of standing at a bar within a winery caused many of them to drive right by his place—he later learned that a few winery staff were pooh-poohing his tasting room to customers at their bars, a fact that truly enraged him but had to remain unchallenged, as the information came to him from some of the tourists who did make it to his place who by their transient nature could not be considered reliable sources. Finally, his tasting room was situated on a main highway that was both an entry and an exit route. On entry, tourists were not inclined to stop at a non-winery tasting room; by exit, many were satiated.

In all, his first weekend in the tasting room was a bust. When he sat to figure out his costs and the cash register take, he realized that he and Theresa had worked the whole weekend for approximately 85 cents an hour. Something either had to change or to be abandoned.

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
May 2010. All rights reserved.

4 comments:

Marcia Macomber said...

Love it! Nick and Theresa must hang in there.

For those of us non-farming, non-winery running readers, this is a real treat...and shows (a bit of) the difficulty of running this type of business.

Tasting fees here run the gamut, as you know. One retail shop I regularly visit, offering appox. 4-8 wines, @ 2-ounce pours, is usually priced $15-$25 for the tasting. Another retail establishment (on a different business model) always offers 6 pours in the tasting, each approx. 1/2 ounce each (or maybe a bit more), for $1.

On-site winery tasting fees vary dramatically.

Here's hoping Weekend #2 is much better for Nick.

Thomas said...

I'll tell Nick what you told me, Marcia.

My intent is to enlighten concerning the things that one faces in the wine and vineyard business.

Keep in mind that this is a view from one location. While the general concepts are universal, many of the particular circumstances are not transferable. And, it is fiction. Any similarity to anyone real or imagined is coincidental.

Marcia Macomber said...

Thomas, a disclaimer for the comments and posting. Sweet!

Of course, the circumstances are not applicable everywhere. Licensing, permits and other sundry governmental (or personal) can vary greatly. It is fun to hear what specific obstacles Nick must put up with, er, overcome!

Thomas said...

Marcia,

Put up with is the right phrase...but of course, this is only fiction!!!