Sunday, June 03, 2018

Getting All Caught Up in the Tangle of this Grape Thing

It’s 4:00 AM and I’m staring at the ceiling in bed, eyes wide open. And I’m thinking about wine. Wine, wine, wine. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was supposed to be retired, and to move on, to putter in the garden, travel a bit, to ply about in the darkroom on my photo portfolio, hang out with the animals, ride my bike, and get off the freeway of the wine world. And this work thing. I’m still trying.


And then, it’s 5:30 AM and I’m sitting at my desk, sipping on coffee and I start to trawl through the sites on the internets and I see modern day Maenads, Kelli White, Elaine Brown and the pseudonymous R.H. Drexel, who are dancing faster, faster up the hill, the hill of wine, and writing and their lives all caught up in similar scrambles, faster, faster, take the hill, take the hill, burst into flames, yes, yes!.

That’s what it looks like to me, when I slow down and get off the road, off the wine trail, and stare at the traffic passing, passing, faster, faster…what is this compunction we have to tell all these stories about a bunch of crushed grapes? What really is grabbing, stabbing, holding us in this grasp?

More and more the stories on these pages are seeming to be less and less about wine. But still, there are grapes involved. I don’t rummage around the wine closet at night trying to figure out how to open the perfect wine for dinner. More often, I am searching for some white wine, which seems to desert me at every chance. Rosé wine too. Oh, there’s plenty of red wine, and here in June there is a thermometer that is registering 95˚F at 6:00 PM. Oh, yeah, I have plenty of red wine, for the rest of my life.

This “rest of my life” business. Apparently, I cannot get the grapes out of it. And so it seems, for others around me, in the wine world. We are obsessed with these little globules of grape juice, pulp, pips and stems. Jeez, it’s embarrassing how gripped we are by a little grappolo.

Meanwhile, a pre-sunrise text bleats out over the silence of the coffee, “You cannot imagine what hell it is back here at work. Fine wine, ha!” Again, with the work.

I writhe in pain with the muscle memory of the many mornings I faced the computer and the emails, and the many changes that the wine trade has experienced over my tenure. I cannot feel the immediacy of that aching, but I can empathize with my colleagues, the ones I “left behind.”

And still, with all the wailing and gnashing, there are those Bacchantes, like White, Brown and Drexel, who have gone stark raving mad over these pummeled orbs of sweet, gooeyness. How is it one can have a tinge of envy over their abbandono to Bacchus? Does it not make you want to jump into the mosh pit of their frenzy, crush the grapes, lie in the must, and seethe slowly until the miracle transforms you into something greater as well?

An excerpt from Kelli White’s book, Napa Valley Then and Now: “Driving through Napa Valley today, it’s hard to imagine that anything other than grapes was ever grown here. Even to those august few who remember a time when plum and walnut trees outnumbered vines, it seems the distant and hazy recollection of a dream. This valley craves the grape…”

From Elaine Brown’s Insta-feed, this share, an encounter in a vineyard with Jose Luis Mateo and Tegan Passalacqua: “The work each of them do comes from caring for the heritage of the place in which they live, wishing to preserve the vine history of the area for future generations as both a record and link to the past and insight for the future. Eventually they tell stories of losing old vines or older vineyards do [sic] to drought or regional economics. Tegan explains it feels like the hopelessness of losing family. Jose Luis agrees these older vineyards he works to save are what hold all his thoughts. They are what each one loves. And in the midst of their talk of sites they have lost we realize we all are crying.”

On R.H. Drexel’s Insta-feed, a quote from Madame Lalou Bize Leroy: "It's simple. I love my vines more than most people."

Forcefully, there is the Siren Call of freedom. Freedom from work, from worry, from stress, from the daily drama that pulls us in, whether it be work or play or family or country. And Italy and America, right now, along with the rest of the world, are in the grip of the daily drama.
  • Will I get the apartment near the beach for August?
  • Will I lose 20 pounds?
  • Will these politicians please take that round trip around the sun, finally, and give us all a break?
  • Will my wine be cool enough?
  • Will they ever like me?
  • Will I outlive my money?
  • Will I ever make peace with all these swirling dervishes inside my head?

It’s 5:45 AM, and in pops this passage from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, from Colonel Kurtz and his derailed traipse in the jungle. “Have you ever considered any real freedoms? Freedoms from the opinion of others... even the opinions of yourself?”

And just like that, it’s 6;10 AM and I have a plane to catch. Oh yeah, I have yet to escape from the grapple of the grappolo, here in the jungle.










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