June 11, 2008
I re-planted a fancy vineyard today.
Last night, as I was driving up the hill to see my fiddler friend, I saw a fawn, nursing beneath its mother. They were in the middle of the road, and I scared them dumb as I braked. They looked at me and hopped off. Last night, after the deer and after the fiddling, I stayed up too late, those fiddlers, they do that, they make you talk about your feelings and the air was clear and the Sirius was out, so today I woke up tired and sad, and already kind of defeated.
Planting a vineyard is supposed to be some sort of spiritual endeavor, but it’s grim and hard labor. I guess on one of the mountain vineyards I take care of, before it was a vineyard, before it was some hippy nudist colony, it was a back-to-the-land spiritual cultish thing, where wealthy people seeking something would pay good money to plant a grapevine themselves. What a beautiful con job that was, as good as Tom Sawyer’s whitewashing the fence, because the planting of a vineyard is just a whole lot of sweat and dust and bullshit.
The shovel, at a certain velocity sparks, it flames when it hits a big rock, and if you don’t know how to let go of the shovel at the last minute, you’ll feel the rock lightning down to your spine and into the soles of your feet.
Now, I don’t know how much you know about him, I can’t be sure how in tune you are with the cosmic macho powers of the universe, but listen, nobody is more macho than Julio Cesar Chavez. Nobody. I remember hearing that for one of his biggest fights, maybe the one with Hector “Macho” Camacho, he didn’t really traditionally train or spar or anything, he just dug fencepost holes around his rancho.
He punished “Macho” Camacho, Mr. 41-0 with 18 KOs, that little puto with his fancy assed hair and his clown pants, and went home to his ranch, like it was nothing as hard as a hard day working under the sun like a real man, digging holes in the unforgiving earth.
It was like 4 years ago when I got my first 9 hours of planting a vineyard, of breaking shovels and rocks, and I understood. I take pride in that I get the respect of my coworkers for being a gabaacho who works in the fields as hard as they do. It’s unheard of. They don’t understand. I just tell them that I’m from Iowa, and that we’re different.
The killdeer is in the plover family of birds and is smart and pretty and I just love em. Today, in the face of my crew of 2 tractors and maybe 50 men with shovels and picks, a mated pair of killdeer sang a beautiful warning song and defended their four spotted eggs laid in the bare dust of a recently laid out vineyard.
We taped off the rows and wouldn’t let the tractor through. We warned all the guys, but we had to go close to the nest, you know, we had to work. The two retreated in our presence, singing loud raucous warning songs, beautiful really, and there we were, a bunch of dirty macho cowboys, each of us keeping an eye on all of us, protecting their four, fragile eggs from one another.
I think they made it. I think it’ll be alright. They seemed like they’d be good parents.
I didn’t bring Sancho with me to work this morning. It was maybe 90 degrees in the boring sun, and he doesn’t really care for it when I just have to stand and slowly work all day. He gets bored and he gets hot, and just sits under a tree and looks at me, like, “is this really what you want us to do with our lives? Really?”
So I didn’t bring him to work, and he insisted on a long walk in the woods when I got home, I was all at once thirsty and hungry and smelly and dirty and I still had work to do, but after a quick shower, a cold beer in my pocket, I took him out. As we got to the woods, and I should tell you- it’s an urban woodland, you know, it’s a abnormally low, and once a bit more proud but now polluted and urban creek in the working class part of town. But in the creek, (Sonoma Creek), strangely, and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it, I saw that a lone salmon had made it all the way up the creek from the bay and expired here, a few blocks from my house. Had it made it? Did it find another and spawn? I guess I wish I was a bit more optimistic. The scene made me sad deep down, you know? Like even though I braked so as not to not kill the doe and the fawn, even though I made sure nobody fucked with the killdeer eggs, I didn’t really do enough. The salmon are leaving the earth, you know? And I love the taste of lox. I love my spicy salmon sushi rolls. The whole thing was really kind of my fault.
Also, the deer, the killdeer, and the salmon, they all kind of looked at me accusingly, like my coworkers do when we talk about having kids, seeming to ask me why I’m fucking around, why not just leave it in one night and make some kids? I don’t even know what to say anymore.
Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was a beautiful, 17 year old , migrant, and pregnant vineyard worker, who died last month before her boyfriend could give her the gold ring he’d saved up for. They were both from a small little village in Oaxaca. Their manager wouldn’t give them enough time to go and get water on a day that was 95 degrees out. She died in the dust, in her boyfriend’s arms in a vineyard in California.
It was a Wednesday.
May 23, 2008
I must apologize, I’m deeply sorry. I’ve been really busy growing a beard, eating tacos, and nursing a bruised-up heart following a rather depressing breakup. I was sick for a while. There was a major frost. Then it was unbearably hot. I kept working, cold or hot, shivering or sweating, bummed out and lost in my own little world. The grapes kept growing and now, you should know, the whole world smells lovely as the grapevine flowers open up. It’s my favorite time of the year, at least in terms of smells, since all the vineyards are bathed in a heady aroma of springtime loveliness.
There was a point in my little depression where I hit the nadir. Sick, I’d lost my voice and had a fever for a week. I lost what little weight I’d spent a few years in the gym to gain. My birthday came around and I spent it alone, after working 12 hours in 105 degree weather. But then, I dunno, I got bored with feeling blue and a song welled up in my chest. Hank Williams, you drunk fucker, you popped out of nowhere one day while I was checking petioles or spraying some biodynamic bullshit, and there I was, singing about heartbreak at the top of my lungs, echoing off the walls of the mountains around me. Sure, I can’t really sing well, but it doesn’t matter. A grapevine requires song.
Many people with advanced viticultural degrees will have a lot of things one should do in order to grow good grapes. Things like deficit irrigation, or advanced canopy management, or limiting crop load. Hey, I won’t disagree. But I think that probably more important than any of those things, at least in terms of creating a truly sublime wine full of life-force and I dunno, truth, is that the grapevines need to be sung to by those who work with them.
Most of the guys I work with, in fact pretty much all of them, came here to California from Mexico. They’re macho cowboys who miss their women and children back home, and will often burst into song like a bird. A bird with a moustache. They carry little transistor radios with them to listen to their corridos and accordion-heavy love songs. For the first few years, I couldn’t stand the music, but as my ability to understand the words grew, I came to love the music. I mean, who the hell else can sing a happy song about suffering, about begging a lost lover on your knees to take you back.
This is the music that is played to the vines as they’re planted, as they’re care for, and as their fruit becomes wine. This is the music that’s infused into the wine that you drink . Songs of heartache and longing, of being an unloved migrant far from home, far from family. But a vine needs a song, and I’ll tell you why:
A little ancient history:
Some 220 million years ago, there were no flowers. There were no birds. There was no song. And then, a meteor struck the Earth.
Dinosaurs became birds, and:
plants learned to flower.
Plants began to seduce animals with aroma and fruit to propogate and evolve their species. Animals began to take to the air, migrating along with the seasons, singing songs of heartache and longing.
Within a short time, maybe just 100 million years, flowering plants ruled the earth, and the grapevine that we treasure had become widespread around the globe. Besides the meteor, the triumph of the grapevine was mediated by the power of song. Without those songs of heartbreak and longing, a grapevine won’t fully ripen its grapes, and you, the consumer in wherever you are –let’s say its New York– won’t have that sublime experience that you’re looking for. Your meal very much depends upon the willingness and desire of grown and macho men to burst into song like a bird. Keep that in mind. If the wine tastes good, it’s because a grown man with a heavy heart lightened his load by singing a happy song about loneliness and heartache.
As a vineyard manager, I take this responsibility as seriously as any other. I understand that if a man doesn’t have a song in his heart about to burst out, he won’t do the quality work that is needed to produce a quality wine. One of the guys I work with, his name is Albino, he was a professional mariachi back home. He played the Tololoche, a bass, and he’ll sing at least once a day. He’s a total badass.
And now, if you’ll forgive me, I’ve got beer to drink and tacos to eat. There’s a banjo within reach that needs playing. There’s songs to sing. Enjoy the wine, you assholes: those complex flavors you’re tasting: they cost me a rather lovely girlfriend.