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.