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.