Clenching. The Last Harvest of 2012.

October 7, 2012

The last of the fruit hung up until now.
A relatively dry year.
Most of the storms channeling west, or east of us.
A welcome change from last year,
filling our hearts with hope for the long-term.
Vintages more like this would be a godsend,
and we expect them to present themselves.
After all, everything is an improvement upon the constant rain and clouds for two months leading into the 2011 harvest.

Eye to eye with Cabernet Franc, the last of the harvest was underway.
“Look west,” Tom said.
From my crouched position,
I stood up straight,
to bring my head up to the top of the canopy.
Off in the distance,
a dark strip of clouds ran parallel with the vine row.
Up to my tip-toes I reached,
to see more.
The thin dark strip was maybe 20 minutes away.
“Should we bring in what we’ve got?” I asked, feeling a little concerned.
Tom, in thought, picked a few more clusters
then, calm and confident, “Yes. Let’s get them in.”
We trekked up our vine rows, and met at the top.

The Gator turned down the first row,
Tom driving.
Myself following behind,
collecting and stacking grape lugs onto the back, up to chin height.
As Tom drove at a careful crawl, I leaned into the lugs,
preventing any threatening sway.

The clouds were encroaching, but slow enough.

After two loads, and ten minutes later, the lugs were nestled safely into the horse trailer.

On my way back down my vine row,
back to snipping clusters,
I passed Scott, one of our volunteers,
and chuckled out, “Looks like we’re going to get a little wet.”

Despite the poor outlook, my spirits were high.
A slight of rain would do little to dampen the quality of this years’ crop.
I slipped the harvest pruners from my pocket,
and sped my walk to match the downslope of the hill.

Clusters dropped easier, cooperating with the desire of my hands.
The same was happening for Scott, as he kept pace with myself.
Significant progress was being made,
and the completion of harvest was in sight.
Though the clouds were closing in.

In the Western distance, tree leaves rustled, letting fall their first autumn leaves.
Sparking excitement.
Something’s coming…
Chilly and persistent,
a wind
pattered upon us in threads.
Thousands of interwoven breezes I could feel,
working like braids through the vines,
twisting senescing leaves off as they twirled,
and sweeping in cold air.
Immediate and shocking.

The clouds.
Straight overhead. The dark
was even creeping past us now.
Surely, the drops overhead were enjoying a free-fall,
coasting towards their end.

“Was that a drop?” I thought.
On my hair was maybe something.
If so,
it was barely noticeable,
and barely tiny.

Darkness enveloped,
and the clusters continued to drop,
while we held on in anticipation

for the clouds to release.
My heart beat faster.
My hands moved quicker.
The clouds loomed.
My senses heightened.

The rain would fall now


the clouds would hold patient





…slip right on by,

to leave us clean,


To new beginnings for Crow Farm!

June 23, 2012

Lightning cracked the sky.
The whole sky
miles ahead of us.
And we could see it all.
We could see the storm rolling in,
forcing oak leaves to turn up
And the tops of the vines…
waving like a crowd around a stadium,
throwing their growing tips back in exaltation,
Praising the storm
for a much needed downpour.

This last Friday, I took a trip with Polly and Tom out to the Eastern Shore, where Crow Farms threw a “soft opening” in preparation for the “grand opening” the next day.

The celebratory gathering was nearing its’ end as I stood outside the entrance to the tasting room,
by the power of the nearing storm.
A few others stood around to soak it in.
The flat terrain of the eastern shore housed miles of open fields
leaving the view open to see the entire enormity of the storm.

The past two days had been plagued by a heat wave introducing record-breaking temps to the east coast.
Storms rode in on the tail end of this wave.
The electricity provoked by the heat,
And the lightning danced.
Relief and satisfaction.
Rain had been scarce at the Dodon vineyard, over the past month in Davidsonville (near Annapolis),
and the vines would benefit from this well-timed downpour.
The storm approached from across the Bay Bridge,
and it must have passed over our vines.
The wind picked up even further.
Unhindered by trees, buildings, people,
it flooded the landscape,
and brought with it a sense of urgency.
Commanding people to their cars before the rain was upon us.

I turned to go inside,
To say some “thank you’s” along with “farewells.”

Upon opening the door,
Roy and Judy, the owners, were beaming with delight
as they received a present from one of the guests.

The event was a success, for certain.
Excellent estate-grown wines,
Delicious appetizers that included grass-fed beef from the farm,
And an array of friends, family members, and co-workers,
all of whom were full of life as they joined in to celebrate the beginning of this new venture.

Cheers! Best of luck to the Crows!

You can check out the Crow website here

Crow Farms currently has three wines available:
-Sparkling Vidal – Nice yeasty component, with a refreshing acidity
-Vidal Blanc – Bubble gum nose up front, full mid-palate with a subtle hint of sweet, nice length in the finish (can‘t believe this is Vidal!)
-And a Dry Rose – From Merlot and Barbera

Stealing the Big Deep Inky

Half a foot deep,
Into a dark black hole,
A large glass pipette descends into a barrel:
so as not to disturb the sleeping beast.

Patiently, a thumb waits on the other end of the pipette, ready
to secure a portion, stolen
straight from the inky purple heart of the monster.

Pinching, the thumb caps the pipette, closing the sample off
from the rest of the barrel,
and the hand of this young Mendocino woman
gradually retracts the pipette like slipping a bottle out from the snuggling arms of a sleeping baby.

Outside the muted atmosphere of the barrel,
camera’s flash, people scuffle.
An excited “thank you” echoes off the cement walls
as the pipette is just about to let release it’s juice
Into the first lucky glass.

A danish woman catches the deep inky malbec,
Her glass disappears from the action.
The pipette dives down to steal another portion.

This is La Azul…

One tiny winery amongst giants in this new, growing, and highly commercialized area called the Uco Valley.

Cruising into Trouble on a Rented Motor Scooter

Arms crossed,
the young Frenchman asks,
“Have you ridden a motor scooter before?”
“No,” I reply.
The Frenchman shifts uncomfortably.
He gazes down to the floor.
Catching the weight of his head with his right hand,
he contemplates.
Keeping his head still, he peers up into my eyes,
and squints, as if trying to see my future.
Raising his head slightly, he opens his mouth to speak
but decides not to,
and he quickly relaxes back into his contemplative position,
re-thinking his thoughts.
I remain silent.

I want to rent this scooter really badly.
Then, I can ride out to Lujan de Cuyo,
where the vineyards sprawl,
and the bodegas (wineries) thrive.

I am excited.
I am nervous.
I am determined.

He speaks up, “But, you have ridden a bike, yes?”
Confidently, I state, “yes.”

He glances up at me again,
This time he squints his eyes softly,
on the verge of acceptance.

He sees right through me,
and knows my determination

A smile spreads across his face,
“Ok ok ok…”
and with a wave of his hand he releases all his doubts, and turns toward the motor scooter,
beginning to point out the parts, and how they work.

From his small room in the basement of the parking garage,
I am trained in the ways of motor scooters.
All goes smoothly.

Helmet on.
I am ready.
The Frenchman wishes me luck,
and like a mother dropping her kid off at school for the first time,
he sees me off.

Slowly increasing the gas,
the earth begins to move beneath my feet.

I lift my legs and begin to ascend a nearly 45 degree slope that exits the garage.

The journey begins.

In first gear,
out of the garage,
I make a left turn onto the open one-way street.
I am free!
Shifting into second gear
I fly…
into the right lane.
For a full 30 feet, I cruise…
until the first red light.
This is fun.

Two cars pull up to my left,
and a couple more file in behind.
A man on a motorbike stops behind me.
The light turns green.
I hit the gas, and the motor buzzes,
increasing in pitch,
until I shift into second gear.
Neck and neck with the cars…
and I shift into third.
Though nervous before,
a feeling of confidence has now taken over.

We’re halfway down the block,
and I’m getting ready to shift into fourth gear,
when suddenly I see,
up ahead,
a patch of neon yellow appear from behind a parked car…
A lady
staring straight at me,
waving me off to the right,
into an empty parking lane…
It is the traffic police.


She is waiving all the motorbikes/scooters off to the side.
More traffic officers are waiting.

The lady leaves her post, and approaches me,
in Spanish, she asks for the registration, insurance, and my license.
I hand over the papers that the Frenchman gave me,
and then fish out my license.
Holding my breath, I hand it over,
and await her response.

Behind me,
the other riders have removed their helmets,
I remove mine.

The traffic officer has a look of suspicion.
She holds my card at different angles, searching for something.
She stares at the front for 15 seconds.
She stares at the back for 15 seconds…
Front again… 1 minute.
Back again… 1 minute.
Front… 10 seconds.

The motorbiker that was behind is cleared.
He starts his engine, and takes off.

My traffic officer walks over to another officer.
He inspects the license.
They discuss something,
and the lady returns.

She points to the back of the license.
Two words pop out…
“… EXCEPT motorcycles.”

I try to save myself.
I tell her,
in my country, I’m allowed to ride a motor scooter with this license.
She doesn‘t care, and points back to the license,
stating the restriction.
She tells me to cross the street and wait there.

I await my fate.

From this side of the street,
I see other riders that were pulled over.
Tears pour down a lady’s face
as she stares off into space.
Her partner is dealing with the traffic officers.

The officer writes what looks to be a ticket.
The lady, in a tearful daze, steps back into the sidewalk,
and shamefully begins to walk away.
The teary eyed lady’s partner puts his helmet on. Leaving her, he rides off.

My officer returns to me.
Again, she points to the words
“EXCEPT motorcycles”
She looks at me.
I tell her the rental place is very close, and I could simply return it.
She pulls out her ticket pad, and puts her pen to paper.
But, she hesitates.
“The rental place is close?”
“Less than a block.”
“Go there, and tell the man to bring his license.”
“I have his phone number, can I call instead?”

Two minutes later,
The Frenchman arrives, out of breath and jumpy.
He produces a ratty piece of tri-folded paper.
Holes litter the creases…
it could fall apart at any moment.

She opens it carefully.
It is in French.

Old dates… 2001, 2002 …they cover the license.
and immediately, she says it’s expired.
“No no no no no,” the Frenchman rattles out,
Pointing to a paragraph, written in French, on the license…
“This says it‘s not expired…”
She points back to the dates…
He explains, in more complicated Spanish than I can make out.
She shakes her head,
and reluctantly,
she accepts.

Thank God!

The Frenchman drives the scooter back,
and I walk back to his shop to meet him.

With sighs of relief,
we make apologies.

He hands back my money for a full refund.
I leave him with a portion, for all the troubles.
He wishes me luck
as I step into the garage elevator.
I will be ejected into the streets.
My journey to Lujan de Cuyo has reached a sudden and fatal end.

Taste and See: A self-guided tour in Maipu, Argentina

The sun…
The pedals of the bike… rickety.
But my spirits, high.
With three big pushes of the pedals, I shoot off across the street,
and lean back, enjoying the wind in my face.

The vineyards of Maipu ahead.

The couple that I had rented my bike from
had outlined all the wineries in the area…
More than I could get to in one day.

First on my list, a small boutique winery, Vina Maria.
About a mile down the street.

The tasting room has a rustic log-cabin sort of feel.
Rough-finished wood tables,
old barrels.

Wooden wheel at the winery, Vina Maria

Wooden wheel at the winery, Vina Maria

Walking into the empty tasting room,
I’m greeted by a young lady about my age.
The place is empty otherwise.

The young Mendocino lady, Marta, speaks perfect English.
I get a run down on the wines.
All malbec.
All the time.
She offers up some history…
The owner once owned the winery Trapiche,
but had to sell it in hard times.

We talk for a few moments, enjoying each others’ company,
and then move onto the wine drinking.
Rather than tasting a small bit of the entire line of wines (as is done in most places),
She offers a glass of wine…
and permission to explore the vineyard.
I smile big inside.
I ask if the vineyard manager is around.
“He is usually in the vineyard…
…or the pool.”
as I step out,
I hope to get the chance to chat.

I walk through the garden, as Marta had directed, and come to the vineyard.

The blocks are easily distinguished, as a mound of solid dirt borders each.
About 6-12 inches high these mounded borders are designed so that when the irrigation channels are opened, the area floods.

This is nearly the only source of water that these vines receive. (Avg rainfall: less than 10 inches per year)

Stepping across the irrigation channel, I wander into the vineyard,
and turn into a row.
The ground is soft,
and sinks beneath my feet like wet snow.

I bend down to see the fruit. No leaves pulled.
Noticeably past veraison, though some berries are still green.

Malbec fruit on the vine

Malbec fruit on the vine

I pick out a grape
and follow the procedure for tasting grapes

Pinching the grape between my thumb and forefinger,
I squeeze,
catching the juice, pulp, and seeds in the palm of my other hand.

All that is left is the skin.
I smush between my two fingers,
apply pressure
and grind
back and forth…
A small drop of juice, gathers at the bottom of the skin.
Just barely pink.

I chew the skin… no fruit flavors present.

I then suck up the juice, pulp, and seeds…
Tasting the juice and pulp, while retaining the integrity of the seeds…
Definitely developing sugar,
but this Malbec needs plenty more time on the vine.

I spit the seeds out for a look.
Still green.
I toss the seeds into my mouth…
Bitter, herbaceous, tannic.
Two months before harvest…
This is too early to critique a grape for true potential.

I peak up above the fruiting zone to get a look at the canopy…

…about an hour later, I call my self guided tour over…
and continue on… picking up a bottle on my way out.

A rattle with theft: Arriving in Buenos Aires (Part 2)

I am in the wrong part of Retiro.
Realizing I’m in a train station, not a bus station,
I exit and walk further on, until I find a newstand:
+1 Buenos Aires map
-20 pesos

The bus terminal is back the way I came…
The first left past the train station.
Avoiding the crowd, I pass the busy sidewalk on the other side of the street,
and find my way to the first intersection.

No street name.
Few people.
Train station on the left,
no distinguishable buildings.
Deep down where the road ends,
there are train tracks, an elevated highway ramp, and empty city lots.

But there are three busses off in the distance,
It’s worth checking out.
I walk cautiously down,
A large truck offers sells sodas from the back.
A large warehouse with its’ garage door open does the same.
I pass them to find the busses.

The busses are vacant.
The road shows no further signs of promise.

The sun shines from straight overhead.
I am struck with the thought that I am super HOT.
A cold drink suddenly sounds like the most refreshing thing in the world.
PLUS! I can ask the vendors if they know anything about the busses.

I approach the big open warehouse garage,
And am greeted by a severely dressed down elderly man.
In his wife beater, and wearing his remarkable tan,
He welcomes me with a smile.
I politely ask for a “refresco” (soda)
“Coke?” he asks.
I accept even before being given another option.
“Pequenita o…” showing the size with his hands, he increases the gap from 6 inches to about 2 feet.
“Pequenita,” I reply.
He turns into the warehouse garage,
rounds a stack bottles and disappears.

In the dim lit, cool, open atmosphere of the warehouse, there are a couple of men relaxing .
They glance over with no consequence.
A soft breeze suddenly fills the air with a delightful BBQ smell (Asado).
Three feet to my right, a large slab of pork rests over a small pile of grey coals.
A few sausages are pushed to the side to be kept warm.

The man returns, “8 pesos.”
As I pull out my “faux” wallet,
(I have two wallets… one wallet holds all my important stuff, and the other holds a small amount of cash)
I begin to ask about the busses.
His Spanish is super slurry…
my Spanish can’t comprehend.
3 times, he explains directions in Spanish, but to no success on my part.
but he has a friend who knows English.
The next warehouse door over,
His friend, using hand signals interspersed with a couple key words, produces a proper explanation…
And I understand now…

The bus station is around the corner and a block away.

A short walk, and I’ve found it.
Oddly, the people exiting are being check by border officials,
And the line… yes…
is LONG!

I decide not to investigate any further.
My bus doesn’t leave for another seven hours.
Across the street is a beautiful park, housing huge trees.
Welcoming shade,
and the tree makes a perfect back rest.
I slip my bags beneath my legs,
take a refreshing swig of my coke,
pull out my journal and pen,
And begin documenting my feelings…

Back against the tree, writing

Back against the tree, writing

I write,
“The breeze is incredible.
A feeling of saf”….

I write,
but before I finish the “f” in “safety,”
Two legs slide out from behind the tree,
and a demanding voice,
“Mu-ee pliz,”
scares the sh*t out of me.
My pen scratches across the paper.
My legs jump from my sitting position.

I am being robbed.

I look up to see his face.
A young gentleman of about 18,
His four front teeth knocked out,
Mumbles quickly
as best as his teeth would allow
and in an accent so strong, if out of context, I would be pained to comprehend,
“Mu-ee pliz”
It was clear as day…
Money was his demand.
I had to play dumb.
“What?” I replied.
“Mu-ee pliz.”
He shifts in front of me,
my legs and pack nearly beneath his body.
“Huh?” I lean in as though I can’t comprehend,
…Buying time.
I scan my surrounds…
looking for an out.
“MU-EE pliZZ,” he puts emphasis on each syllable.

Though frightened, I do not feel endangered.
I decide, I will not be giving this young man one single peso.
I raise my Coke.
“Coke?” I gesture, pretending as if I’ve finally understood.
He is getting fidgety.

A man waiting for a bus stands 50 feet in front of me.
He catches my eye.
Gently, I raise my hand,
and carefully gesture, with my index finger,
The young thief sees this.
he shifts his weight rapidly from foot to foot.
“Coke?” I offer once more.
With a simple nod and a missing-toothed smile, he says thank you,
takes the coke remissively,
and strolls proudly off.

Easy-target: Arriving in Buenos Aires (part 1)

From the airport, I bought a bus ticket from a cute Mendoza girl to go to Retiro (the bus station). She was kind enough to lead me straight to the bus, so all I had to do was board.

On the bus from the airport to Retiro (the bus station)

On the bus from the airport to Retiro (the bus station)

The bus left us a block from Retiro,
and a kind old lady gave me directions in slow, but perfect English.

After gathering my bags, and with my camera out and ready to snap shots, I began walking.

Three men walking down a Buenos Aires sreet

Three men walking down a Buenos Aires sreet

As I approached the first light, the Retiro station came within sight.
A couple waiting for the traffic to clear noticed me as I approached.
In Spanish, the man told me to “hold my camera tight. The kids are quick.”
Great. Two steps into Buenos Aires, and I’m already singled out as a care-free, easy-target, traveler.
“There are a thousand eyes,” he added as he pointed to me. His girlfriend stares from behind.
Full of concern, I ask if I should put it away.
“No. Just hold it tight,” he replies.
The traffic stops.
“Muchas gracias,” I say as I step into the street toward Retiro.
He and his girlfriend smile back.
On the sidewalk in front of the bus station.
All over.
People are lined up single file on the right,
street vendors wall off the left.
All that remains is a 1.5 person wide gap,
and this is clogged with two lines of people traffic… going in opposite directions.
The person behind pushing the person ahead.
The person ahead, no choice but to push forward…
Unstoppable forward momentum.
No stops, just GO.

I hold my camera tight beneath my right bicep and chest.
My right hand, which is acting as barrier to a pickpocket, is also grasping the shoulder straps of my high-school sized backpack.
My left hand digs into my left pocket, where my cell phone and wallet reside.
My head turns 90 degrees to the left, then 90 degrees to the right…
I know, behind me, there is an agile man of about 30. I am catching glimpses of him, to be sure he’s not fiddling with my large travel backpack.
I am nervous.
Very nervous.
I can feel that something bad will happen.
But suddenly, the sidewalk opens up.
My fears are relieved, as I find a corner to safely back into and re-asses my item carrying situation.
I stuff my camera into my high-school bag, and this gets slung in front of my chest.
Much safer.

In the Retiro station, I look around. A line bends right in front of me, leading to an information kiosk about 200 ft ahead. It is the same line that took up ¼ of the busy sidewalk, that I slipped through.
The line is not moving.
There are 3 or 4 more lines, each stretching off in a direction with no end in sight.
I shift my gaze deeper into the station.
There are only trains.
No roads, no busses.
I am in the wrong part of Retiro.