Looking over the back deck at the vineyards sloping toward the lake, Nick plainly saw what looked like an army of dwarf vines clinging to their larger relatives. He learned that these are known as “suckers,” because they shoot from the bottom of the coiffed vines and threaten to suck needed energy away from the growing fruit. The following morning, beginning at 6, he was out there “suckering,” the vines, a backbreaking event, to be sure.
While in the vineyard he took careful look at the fruit development. It was late June and so much of the grape clusters still seemed to carry peas more than grapes, but he could see a swelling in them and he could imagine the fruit that would be there in a few weeks.
He still hadn’t found a market for the Catawba, but he maintained the vineyard anyway, figuring that in time he would sell them to someone or some entity. He was told that they are among the later maturing grapes, but wineries like the Canandaigua Wine Company didn’t need mature Catawba, not for what they did with them. They used the grapes mainly so that they could claim on their label that there are grapes in some of the cheap, fortified stuff that they produce into which the Catawba would go. What they needed was acidity, to balance the tons of sugar that went into the wines. He was told that in some years the Catawba were picked before they had developed much juice, because the winery could always “ameliorate” with water in the winery. So, what they mainly sold was water, sugar, acid from grapes, alcohol, and coloring agents.
That word, ameliorate, as it is used in winemaking at the big companies always made Nick laugh. It reminded him of his experience with Mrs. Apfelbaum in the fourth grade. Whenever a kid gave the wrong answer, the acerbic bitch would say, sarcastically, “that was brilliant.” The class, including Nick, used to think that the word “brilliant’ meant “stupid.” Now, he looks at “ameliorate,” which is defined as, “to make better,” and he sees it being used to make a product worse!
When he had had enough of suckering for the day, he was ready to open the tasting room; on his way there, he made a brief stop at John’s winery down the road, to say hello and to talk about that night’s winemaker dinner.
Nick was told by someone on the staff that John was in the cellar and that he could go right down there. As he descended the stairs to the cellar, he smelled a faint vinegary odor. The walls along side the stairway and ahead of him were made of stone and they were slick with slime, partly gray colored and partly black. The floor, which was concrete, had the same slickness to it. The cellar was not clean.
As he stepped off the last step, Nick saw the lower half of John’s body at the top of a ladder; he had his head and part of his torso in the tank. When he emerged from the tank, Nick called out to him.
“What’re doin’ up there, John?”
John looked down, saw who it was and said, “Wait. I’ll be right down.”
Nick waited and looked around, somewhat appalled at what he saw and smelled.
When he reached the bottom of the ladder, John asked, “What can I do for you?”
“Not much. I just came by to see if you want to go to the winemaker dinner together tonight and to find out what you are bringing with you.”
“C’mon, Nick. You know I can’t tell you what I’m bringing; it spoils the fun.”
“Yeah. But I noticed the last time that we had a couple of duplicates, and I wondered if you guys try to prevent that from happening.”
“Think of what you’re saying, Nick. Having duplicates isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s a good test of our abilities. Didn’t you notice how so few in the group managed to pick out the duplicate wines?”
“S’pose you are right. What about driving down together?”
“Nope, not for me. When I want to go home I don’t want to ask for permission. You guys usually stay too long and drink too much for me.”
Nick noticed a large bag of Domino sugar not far from the tank where John was standing.
“What’re doing with the sugar?”
“What the fuck d’you think I’m doing with it?”
“Are you adding it to your wine?”
“Not to all my wine, but to some, like this one I was working on. It’s my white table wine blend that sells for $3 a bottle. It’s for the market that likes dry wine but drinks sweet wine. They think they are getting what they like and I also think they are getting what they like. Haven’t you learned yet that sugar is the opiate of the masses?”
John laughed aloud at his own joke. Nick uncomfortably laughed with him. He had an unsteady feeling that he had just been given a lesson in winemaking that he wasn’t sure he really wanted to hear.
“It took me a few years to understand that the wines I wanted to produce would probably make me go broke. So, I produce the wines that I want to produce, for the people who want them, and I produce the wines that I don’t care about, for the people who want them. Unfortunately, more people want the wines that I don’t care about. The tasting room taught me this lesson. You know that those Aurora grapes I'm buying from you will become part of this wine next year, don't you?”
It sounded awful to Nick, but he had to admit to himself that his experience at the tasting room seemed to prove John’s point. It was simply too much to ponder just then; besides, the vinegary smell was getting on his nerves.
“OK, John. I have to get off to work. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Yep, see you tonight. Before you go, could you wait until I get on the second rung of this ladder and then hand me that bag of sugar?”
John had noticed Nick’s disgust; he asked for the favor just to rub salt into the wound.
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.