Nick spent the month of May in the vineyard cleaning up leftover post and trellis problems, making sure the tying was indeed complete, and then watching bud break. The tractor was tuned up and ready to roar. His chemistry spray schedule was set up. The schedule he was given by the previous owner was formulaic. It didn’t take into account changes in weather and disease patterns, and, to Nick, it seemed like it was too reliant on Monsanto, a company that did not instill joy.
He had already made a few purchases for the winery-to-come: a small crusher/de-stemmer, a crude plate press that he would soon be sorry that he bought, a few small tanks and barrels. He had a couple of stainless tanks custom made, as his requirements were so small and particular he could not locate existing tanks to fit his needs. He especially wanted one tank for bottling that would have a convex bottom and an outlet valve at the center of the bottom point. He needed it because his bottling line would be manually done, fed from the tank by the force of gravity to a small hand-corker. His desire for oak was minimal, as he was never much of a fan of what he considered its over-use, and to be different, he decided on a couple of barrels of what was still back then called Yugoslavian oak. His small operation wouldn’t have and wouldn’t need a big lab, but he still needed a few items of measuring devices to test for acidity, sweetness, sulfur dioxide levels, and acidity/pH—he could not afford to measure for alcohol. For discovering flaws, he would use first his nose and palate, and then a neighboring winery or the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Service nearby.
The winery was an old barn that he had spent most of his money on making ready. A water well was already in place, which was used for the vineyard spraying regime. All it needed was an underground piping system brought into the barn and then a series of sinks and so on. The barn was of sound structure and it had few walls, which was perfect. It needed flooring on the upper levels and it needed pathways for hosing, plus many holes plugged and insulation. He designed the place so that the only time he needed to pump was to get white juice up to the top floor where it was fermented or to send fermented reds from the bottom to the top. After that, rackings were done first from a higher shelf on each floor and down to the second shelf on the second floor, where the wine stayed until bottling. The floors and shelves within floors were “super reinforced.” It was a nice design but it would last only as long as he did not start to increase volume; when that time came, he’d need a new or an expanded winery.
There was no room in the barn for an on-site tasting room, and since the barn was next to his home, he wasn’t crazy anyway about the idea of visitors in close proximity to his house. The idea was to establish that off-site tasting room as the sole winery tasting room. He waited about two weeks after sending in the application for the off-site tasting room before he began to pester the liquor authority. When the time came, he called and was given as his case manager a Mr. Friedman, a man who sounded elderly and harried. The phone calls were classic bureaucracy.
“New York State Liquor Authority. How may I help you?”
“Hello. I’m Nick Lazio. I’ve applied for an off-site wine tasting room license and wondered if you could connect me with the office that handles those applications.”
He was connected to someone who, after he repeated his reason for calling replied, “Applications for winery licenses take a little time. You should receive in the mail a receipt for your application.”
“No ma’am. I have a winery license already. I applied for an off-site tasting room license.”
“If you have a winery license already, sir, you don’t need a tasting room license.”
“ No ma’am. I am applying for an off-site tasting room license.”
“Sir, the only people who can apply for an off-site tasting room license are those who hold a Farm Winery license.”
“Exactly. That’s what I have and that’s why I applied for the off-site license.”
“Oh, thank you sir. I’ll connect you to that office.”
After having been connected to the proper office, Nick learned who the case manager was and so he spoke to Mr. Friedman.
“Hello Mr. Friedman. I’ve applied for an off-site tasting room license and am just checking to make sure everything is going along fine.”
“You must hold a Farm Winery license before we can issue you an off-site license.”
“Yes, I know. I have a Farm Winery License…
Friedman cut him off mid-sentence.
“What is that license number, please.”
He gave Friedman the winery license number and then waited on hold—until he was cut off the line.
Nick was used to this from the last go around with the liquor authority, so he calmly re-dialed and went through the steps necessary to get him to Mr. Friedman.
“Mr. Friedman. I was on hold for you but got cut off.”
“Who are you?”
He gave Friedman the information again and was again put on hold. This time, Friedman came back.
“Yes Mr. Lazy-o. We received your application. Didn’t you get a receipt?”
“It’s Lazio, with a short a. No I didn’t receive a receipt. That’s why I called.”
“Well, don’t worry. We have it and it is being processed. You should have your license within a few weeks.”
“Mr. Friedman, I was under the impression that it takes four weeks to get the off-site license. It’s been two weeks already and I wondered if you can tell me whether that four weeks time is certain. You see…”
Friedman cut him off again.
“Well, it takes about four weeks but it doesn’t take exactly four weeks. It could be five, six, or eight weeks.”
“Could it be three weeks, Mr. Friedman?”
“Oh, I’ve never heard of that happening, and I’ve been here in Albany for almost twenty years.”
“So, it’s possible that I won’t have it by Memorial Day weekend.”
“The off-site license, Mr. Friedman.”
“But I have a tasting room all ready to go. Is there any way to ensure the license gets here by the end of the month? Can I pay extra for expediting the process?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Lazy-o, we don’t take money to make something happen that wouldn’t normally happen. The process takes about four weeks. You will get the license—if your application was filled out correctly—between four and six weeks. If you don’t, then you may phone me again. I’ll be here another few months before I retire.”
Nick’s stomach sank at the word “retire.” During the Farm Winery licensing process, the person that was supposedly helping him get through the many application snafus had retired and it took an extra week to locate the files and get another case worker on them.
“Thank you Mr. Friedman. I’ll call again when I need to.”
“Please, don’t call every day or even every week. I have a lot to do here.”
“Yes, Mr. Friedman. Thank you.”
The next time he called for Mr. Friedman, it was a few days before Memorial Day weekend, the license had not arrived, and the conversation went in a completely unexpected direction.
“Mr. Friedman. The last time we spoke you said I should call if the license hadn’t arrived within the allotted time frame…”
Mr. Friedman cut him off.
“Yes, but you didn’t wait long enough, did you? Anyway, from the files it shows that everything is approved. You should get the license any day now. Call me if you don’t have it in another week.”
“Mr. Friedman, I was hoping to have it for Memorial Day weekend. I submitted in time for that to happen. I am set up to open the tasting room on Memorial Day weekend.”
“Mr. Lazy-o, you can’t sell wine without a license. You can’t open until you get the license. I hope you understand that.”
“I didn’t say that I was going to open without the license. I said that I applied in time to have the license by Memorial Day weekend and I want to open that weekend. It is a busy weekend and could give me a nice head start in my business.”
“Like I said, you can’t open without a license. Call me in a week if the license has not arrived.”
Nick sold wine throughout Memorial Day weekend without a license to sell wine—the license arrived on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Mr. Friedman never knew and it’s a good thing, because that would not be the last time Nick would deal with Mr. Friedman.
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
April 2010. All rights reserved.