Monday, July 19, 2010

One Romance (22)

“It’s Catawba, Nick. You aren’t going to get rich on it.”

This was the advice Nick was given by his neighbor after he balked at the price per ton that the large winery in Canandaigua offered: $300.

“I know, Danny, but how do you guys make a living on that kind of price?”

Danny laughed so hard it scared Nick. He thought maybe the man was touched!

“Nick, you should make wine and stop growing grapes. You don’t have the heart for it. Grape growing is the one business where you buy all your supplies and equipment at retail, and you sell your produce at wholesale. It’s been like that for some time now. In the old days, when Taylor was a big national winery we made money. But as you can see, I’m still driving my 1960s Mercedes.

Anyway, do you want me to tell the grape buyer over there that you are in with three acres at about, what, 18 tons?”

“Yeah, I’m in. Gotta get rid of them somehow. Take a look at them. Do you think I’ve got about 6 tons an acre there?”

“Without a doubt.”

Nick had that conversation in mid September. By late September, he had received a phone call that picking was scheduled three days from then. He was incredulous.

“Danny, they are like peas out there.”

“C’mon, Nick. I’ve seen ‘em. They have some color.”

“Well, yeah, but I’m talking about their firmness. They simply aren’t mature.”

“They doan need no mature grapes. They need grapes for acid and so that they can use the word “grape” on the label. They make up for no juice with water and sugar. You know, this stuff doesn’t go into the kind of wine you drink every day. It goes into someone’s back pocket…”

There was that laugh again, that fell between a howl and a growl. It wasn’t the last time Nick would hear that laugh from a local grower. Over the past few years, they had fine-tuned sarcasm and black humor concerning their fate. Some of them have pulled up stakes; some have started their own little wineries; the rest of them laugh sardonically and keep the bill collectors at bay.

The crew showed up just before dawn. Nick heard them coming in the distance, the quiet, steady groan of a few tractors, one that was connected to the mechanical harvester and two others trailed by wagons with one-ton bins in them. He looked out the window in their direction and saw what appeared like a large insect with bright beams for eyes bouncing its way into the vineyard road. He put on his boots and gloves and went out to start his tractor.

“Now, here’s how we do this,” Danny told him.

“I’ll set the harvester at the end of the row. My guys here will drive a tractor on either side with the bins in them. You will ride on one of the tractor wagons and my son over there will ride on the other. Your job is to clear the bins of debris—you know, dead birds, pieces of wire, whatever ain’t grapes. Don’t worry about the way the grapes look—they suck anyway.”

After about an hour or so into it, Nick was enjoying the work and especially the camaraderie. He had been working for so long all by himself that he missed talking to co-workers. Talking to tourists was not the same, and not nearly as pleasurable.

Unfortunately, for Nick, three acres of mechanical harvesting goes rather quickly, especially when nothing goes wrong—and nothing went wrong. The grapes were picked, the bins were loaded onto a truck, and everyone was gone well before noon. Danny would get back to Nick in a day or so with the full tonnage and a check for $300 each ton, less the picking fee.

Nick’s phone rang early the next morning.

“Hey, Nick, it’s Danny.”

“That was fast. I expected to hear from you tomorrow or the day after.”

“Yeah, well, the news ain’t good. When I got the grapes to Canandaigua I was told that they over purchased and didn’t need all that I was able to bring them…”

Nick cut in.

“Huh? I have no market for those grapes and I have no way to take them back…”

“Relax, relax. They took the grapes, but they gave me less money for them.”

“Is this some kind of scam, Danny?”

“Oh, I know how it looks and I wondered how the hell I was going to break this news to you. But we all were forced to take $250 a ton instead of the promised $300. This is the way these big guys deal with us now. In the old days, Taylor would never have dreamed up such a scheme. Tell you the truth, this may be my last year at this.”

“Well, it certainly is my last year growing Catawba. Have you got the check? How many tons did I come in at?”

“Yours was as I expected, just over 18 tons. The check will be issued today and I will go get it. They are paying me for the whole lot because they have no contract with you. I’ll pay you out of my bank.”

“OK, Danny. Thanks for the call.”

“Hey, Nick. Don’t take it too hard. Chalk it up as a lesson: the money is not in the vineyard; it’s in the bottle.”

Nick sat down to eat breakfast and for the first time that he could remember, he didn’t feel like eating anything. He felt like strangling the grape buyer at the winery, Danny, and himself, as all were complicit in how terrible he felt just then—and just then, the phone rang.

“Nick, it’s Fred.”

Fred was Nick’s longest standing friend—they met in the fourth grade. He was coming up from “the city” for a visit.

Nick couldn’t have gotten better news.

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
July 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One Romance (21)

In his usual nightly telephone conversation with Theresa, who was in New York City for most of each week, Nick mentioned Gordon’s proposal.

Theresa was not impressed. She knew two things about Nick that he seemed to forget every fifteen minutes: he hated working with other people, and his passion for wine went well beyond becoming rich at it, something that he knew was unlikely to happen. She also knew the terrible strain that finances put on Nick, so she had to tell him to throw Gordon out on his ass as gingerly as she could.

“Oh, Nick, I know how hard you are working and I know how easier your life would be if only you had a few million to throw at the winery. But this guy sounds to me like just another slick money manager who will finagle you into a position either of failure and then indebtedness to him or success and indebtedness to him. I’m against it.”

“Against what? I haven’t said anything about going into business with him, just told you what he told me.”

“I’m against you having dinner with him; against you ever talking to him again. If you really need to establish a line of credit, we’ll have to work harder to find a bank willing to give you one. But don’t give your blood and sweat to a slickster.”

“Theresa, have you no faith? I told you about this because I tell you everything. I have made no decisions one way or the other about this guy and his offer.”

“Nick, you ain’t listening to me. Don’t even have dinner with the guy. He’s a pro: he’ll make you think he’s your savior. Do me a favor. After we hang up, think about why you wanted to start the winery and then think about what it is you want from the life you have chosen. Then, weigh carefully what this guy said to you about profit and cashing out and all that stuff. If after that exercise you still think it’s worth hearing this guy out, then fine, have dinner with him. But don’t have dinner with him if you find that what he said is counterintuitive to what you want, which is exactly what I think it is.”

Nick always knew when Theresa had a point—she had a way of making sure that he did know. She had a point and so he took her advice—well, almost.

That evening, he did something that he had heard about before but never tried. He sat himself down and, with discipline, made a list of the pros and cons of what Gordon offered. As he made his way through the list, he could see plainly that Gordon’s concept was not his. Nick was not in the wine business to cash out—he was in it like a taproot. Yes, he needed to earn a living, but he didn’t want to become a Gordon-like figure that placed money and conquest over everything. Besides, Gordon was at Nick’s wine tasting room and showed no interest in tasting wine. What does that say about him?

At the end of about an hour of pros and cons, it was clear to Nick that he would have to tell Gordon to take a hike. That is what he decided he would do; but only after one shot at trying to persuade Gordon otherwise. He called Gordon’s hotel. They arranged to meet the following day at 8 p.m. in Hammondsport at Nick’s friend’s restaurant, the Pleasant Valley Inn, which he considered the best around Keuka Lake.

Nick went to bed that night counting up the many reasons he would give to Gordon for not going into his type of partnership. He hoped that after giving Gordon his reasons, the man would see the light and come around to Nick’s vision, invest his money based on that, and then let Nick’s vision have wings.

Nick waited at the restaurant bar until about 9, sipping and jawboning with Harold, the owner. Gordon never showed. That was that.

A few weeks later, Nick found out from a local news item that Gordon had invested in another winery in the region. He felt a little bad about it, but if he could see into the future, he would not have felt bad at all: within two years, the local news about the venture wasn’t so good. In true money-management fashion, Gordon put not one dime of his own into the winery. He built a scheme to lure investors and then proceeded to milk the winery’s assets in various ways. When the investors grew restless, Gordon the winery angel spread his wings and vanished.

Nick went back to reality. With three weeks to go before the Catawba harvest, his crop remained homeless. He had to get moving on it.

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
July 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

One Romance (20)

After Labor Day traffic slows at the tasting rooms until October. On one slow day, while Nick was in the back room poring over plans for his first pick up of grapes for his first commercial winemaking, the little bell over the door to the tasting room tinkled to alert him that someone had come in.

It was still rather hot outside. The man held his suit jacket slung over his left shoulder. He wore a blue and white striped shirt that was accented by red suspenders about as thick as letterhead. The man’s head supported a full mane of jet-black hair that was so slick and shiny it gave the appearance of a size Triple E patent leather shoe.

Certain the guy was there to sell him something, Nick murmured to himself, “Oh boy.”

“Hi there. I’m lookin’ for Nick, the owner. My name is Gordon.”

“What is it you need, Gordon?”

“Are you Nick?”


“On what?”

“On what you need—yes, I’m Nick.”

“Well, Nicky…”

“I hate Nicky, so please.”

“Oh, sorry ole man. Nick it is. Well anyway, I’m lookin’ to get into the wine business and two people today suggested that I talk with you.”

Nick immediately figured that his winemaker friend Joel had to be one of those two people, as a joke on him.

“Really, Gordon. Why do you suppose they thought I could be of help? Is there something specific?”

“Well, there is something specific. You see, I don’t want to run a winery—don’t even want to own one—just want to invest in one. Hell, I’m a beer drinker!”

Nick was about to strong arm Gordon out the door when the phone rang. It was Joel.

“Nick, is that guy Gordon there?”


“Hear him out. He says he has money and wants to invest. I thought of you right away because he seems like someone who could help you raise the cash you need to stay afloat and he knows so little about the industry, he’d probably stay out of your way.”

“You think? I don’t. But I’ll give it a try.”

Nick looked Gordon straight in the face and noticed that Gordon’s head dropped a little plus his gaze shifted downward.

“Look Gordon. I’m unsure why someone who doesn’t even drink wine wants to invest in a winery, but I’m willing to hear you out.”

“Good. You know, people own stock in companies that produce things that they may never use as long as they believe the company is a good investment. It’s about the money, Nick. Now I know you guys who make wine have passion, but the question is, do you have the money? I have the money. I want to back someone with passion so that my money—and his—will grow. It’s as simple as that.”

“No it isn’t so simple. Have you done homework? Do you know the margins in this business? Do you…”

“Nick, if I didn’t do my homework I wouldn’t be here. I can see that the wine industry is headed for major growth; the population numbers show it; the increased wine consumption numbers show it; the culture is going to catch up to wine.”

“What you say is true, Gordon, but this is not California. As old as the New York wine industry is, and it is as old as California’s, this state isn’t even close to the success of the West Coast wine business.”

“That’s right, Nick. But California didn’t start out that way—everything starts out as something less before it grows into something more.”

Gordon was both wrong and right. As they spoke, the large Gold Seal Winery was closing shop and the even larger Taylor/Pleasant Valley Wine Company was canceling grape grower contracts and had been sold to Seagram, which was the parent company of Gold Seal. Coca Cola bought Taylor in 1976, couldn’t make it work out, and so it sold to Seagram. Now it appeared that Seagram would soon try to get out from under that weight. On the other hand, a shift from large winery cheap stuff to consumption of so-called boutique wines was taking place, and small wineries were popping up across the country, just like Nick’s winery. For a minute, Nick’s interest perked up; then, Gordon went on.

“Look, Nick. We could map it out. Over a few meetings, we’ll determine if we should go ahead. If we go ahead, we’ll lay out a complete plan, a roadmap. I’ll put up the funds we determine we’ll need, you’ll work the operation the way that we determine it will need to be run, we’ll keep tabs on everything and when the time comes to cash out—bang.”

“Cash out?”

“Yessir. We build it, we sell it, we move on with our money to our next interest. That’s how it’s done, Nick. Hell, by then, I might lose interest in the wine business anyway.”

“Uh. Mmmm. Gee Gordon. Can we get together over a bite to eat later on?”

“Sure. I’m in the area two more days. How ‘bout tomorrow night?”

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
July 2010. All rights reserved.