It must be ninety in the shade in Berkeley. The skin on my right hand has turned a little blue from grape pigment, from punching down bins of Gamay and Syrah. The Syrah from Wylie looks like black bean soup, except the liquid is a purple that seems almost electric. I’m well into Harvest 2007, and it’s not even September.
This is harvest #23 for Edmunds St. John. I have to admit, it sneaked up on me. I used to have dreams, when I finally graduated from high school, of finding myself in a Final Exam for some class I hated, and not having studied at all. Then, after Iâ€™d been a mailman for a little more than three years, Iâ€™d dream about showing up at the Post Office around noon on a winter day, hours after all the other mailmen had gone out to deliver their mail, and mine was still sitting in my case, unsorted, The dream changed, after running a winery for awhile, to having grapes coming before Iâ€™d had a chance to even think about getting ready for harvest.
I knew this season would be a little earlier than last, but I didnâ€™t know by how much. I had an inkling around the end of July, when I visited a couple of vineyards in El Dorado County in which veraison was already well underway. Still, I thought Iâ€™d have until the very last week of August. On the 30th of July I headed East to the Berkshires with our two oldest grandchildren, Noah and Olivia, for a family vacation.
Already there when we arrived were two other grandchildren, Megan and Emily, and their parents, and Cornelia. Corneliaâ€™s sister was there as well, and there were various other siblings, cousins, in-laws and outlaws making appearances each day. The average crowd at dinner was 12 or 13.
We spent a week in the Berkshires eating corn on the cob fresh every night, with hamburgers or hot dogs, or chicken, all cooked over an open fire, and followed by copious amounts of ice cream The kids went swimming in the pond or the falls every day. They made up and performed a play about Death and what follows, about which the audience, made up of geezers like me, was already fairly curious.
After returning the grandchildren back to their parents, Cornelia and I spent the following week along Californiaâ€™s North Coast, mostly in Mendocino County. We got home on the 14th, giving us just enough time to pull things together for the celebration, August 18th, of my 60th birthday.(Weâ€™d returned home to discover that the four tomato plants Iâ€™d put into the ground in June, had nearly swallowed up the rest of the vegetable garden Iâ€™d planted at that same time. None of them ripe yet, but not too far off. I love tomatoes in late summer, especially when I can pick them ripe just a few steps from the back door. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever seen such energetic tomato plants, though; itâ€™s awe-inspiring!)
We invited a few hundred kindred souls, friends, family members, wine geeks and gadabouts to attend, in a park in the East Bay hills, a pig roast for the occasion. 2007 is, of course, the year of the pig, in the Chinese zodiac, and the year of my birth was also of the porcine persuasion, so the pig roast seemed appropriate. And since, in the insouciance of youth Iâ€™d never imagined Iâ€™d ever be as old as this, that I would turn 60 â€œwhen pigs fly,â€ by God, thence came the title of this celebration.
About 130 or 140 people showed up for the party, I think. I had a wonderful time. It was a breathtakingly pretty day, in a grove of really splendid, elegant Eucalyptus trees, sunny, plenty of cooling breeze from the Bay. Everyone was in a festive mood, the kids were all running around having a blast. We ate, we drank, we sang. Cornelia spearheaded the composition and performance of a song in my honor that brought the house down, and left me speechless with love.
Some very dear friends from out of town came for the party; perhaps youâ€™ve heard of them? The Great Leftfielders? (see: Organolepticians #31)On Sunday afternoon, the 19th, my real birthday, we spent a portion of the afternoon in the shade of the big Live Oak in our backyard, with guitars, trading songs, and just hanging out. I had to go into the house for something, and heard the phone ring in my office. I imagined it might be someone calling to find out if it was too late to RSVP for the pig roast. (Itâ€™s happened!)
It was Ron Mansfield, my main man from the Foothills, whoâ€™d been unable to get to the party because heâ€™d been up to his neck in peaches. Everything was getting ripe, and quickly. Now it was the grapesâ€™ turn; the new field of Gamay, at Barsotti Ranch was sugaring up fast, did I want to come look at it?
I had a bunch of folks tell me that I should spend at least 10 days celebrating my 60th birthday, but I think Iâ€™m going to have to save the last four or five of those until after the grapes are all in, fermented, pressed out and tucked away for a long winterâ€™s nap. Now, whereâ€™d I put that danged hydrometer?