After the Summer
Another harvest is (almost) in the books, again, in a year of decidedly mixed blessings. It’s been a really distracting harvest for me this year, for a number of reasons I’d like to share here.
Actually, my distractedness probably began quite a while before this harvest. No doubt you’ve noticed that this past year (my 30th in the wine business) has been a year of tremendous social, economic, and political upheaval in this country, and everywhere else as well. (Perhaps this is a side of globalization that none of its most enthusiastic proponents wanted to have to address, or even think about.) The wine business has had, in my experience, a pretty reliable pattern of ups and downs that seem immutably aligned to the ups and downs of the stock market, which, you’ve probably also noticed, has declined by nearly 30% in the past year. The decline in the wine market is aggravated by the presence, in that market, of vast amounts of wine from sources that, for the most part, didn’t even exist during most of my 30 years in this business, sources that came into production in response to what must have seemed, a very short while back, like an unquenchable, insatiable demand for fine wines, at nearly any price. People couldn’t seem to plant grapevines fast enough. (What’s really weird, now, is that new plantings continue, though some of those may be to replace old, or diseased plantings. But the amount of unsold grapes this year has been a disturbing sign.)
Now, to alleviate the logjam of wine inventories, a lot of wineries have started offering unheard-of deals through their distribution channels, in order just to recoup some of the money they’ve had tied up in products that, rather suddenly, stopped moving. Given how small Edmunds St. John is, (and how modest our prices were, to begin with.) we can’t compete on those terms, so the decline in our business has been more dramatic. (In the markets where our distributors really know and love and support our products we’re still doing ok. And we continue to win people over nearly any time they get the chance to taste the wines.) Unfortunately, the really dramatic downturn in the market coincided with a really big increase in production for us last year, the result of plans we began to develop back in 1997. As one might imagine, the effort just to make ends meet can thus become a distraction of considerable import and urgency.
And since that distraction emerges from an economic context that is inextricable from the impact of global events and the politics of global “free enterprise,” it’s difficult (as it should be) to sort out or separate the strong feelings of anguish and worry that I feel, watching the folks in the White House preparing to commit my country to a war in Iraq, from the same feelings I have about what the future holds for my business and my family and my friends. (And since the government has made such a large and ominous point of characterizing anyone who might express such misgivings, who may not be prepared to swallow everything they’re being told to swallow, hook, line, and sinker, as being unpatriotic, and on the side of evil, I can’t help thinking that they must have something to hide, something pretty big, that they really don’t want anyone to find out about, or even think about. So I have to add suspicion to the list, along with anguish and worry. I’ll stop with those three, or I’ll never finish.)
Fortunately there have been some distractions that have been most welcome, that, in fact, have probably made it possible to keep going at times when I’ve been really down in the dumps. One of the greatest, most life-reaffirming distractions I can think of that life has to offer comes in the form of grandchildren, and in this category we’ve been truly blessed. We have five, with another on the way. So there have been lots of occasions when a morning, or an afternoon and evening have been completely filled up with the effort of just trying to keep up with six-year-old Noah, or four-year-old Olivia, (or both of them!) or two-year-old twins Megan and Emily, and/or their two-year-old cousin Ana Kate.
Noah brought his first grade class to the winery a few weeks ago, to see what happens to wine grapes when they get ripe. Their energy truly brought the place alive, reviving an entire cellar crew, weary from six long weeks of intense harvest work. You might wonder what six-year-olds are doing in a winery, and it is a good question. Noah’s school, Malcolm X Elementary, like a number of Berkeley’s schools, now, has a wonderful organic vegetable garden, and they spend a certain amount of time each week, exploring what it means to be responsible for the foods they eat. (Seems to me that’s an important thing to get one’s mind around, and a great way to foster the development of good citizens, and good human beings. Imagine what might happen if we could spend even 1% of the amount that is spent on, say, weapons, for garden programs for all the schools in this country. Get your mind around that, if you can!)
Noah does Tae Kwan Do, and Capoeira, too, and he is stunningly good at them. There’s something almost mythical about the group frame of mind created during the Batisado ceremonies I’ve watched him participate in. He’s being steeped, like tea, in a bath of ancient spiritual tradition. Thanks to Noah’s parents, Robin and Maria, Olivia is now edging into Capoeira also, and I hope to help foster her immersion in it.
All these grandchildren are little heart-stealers, and they nearly stole the show when they all danced together at my daughter Heather’s wedding, in September. In a certain way, the wedding was, of course, a much greater distraction than anything else could have been, coming, as it did, right smack-dab in the middle of harvest. One of the first principles of good winemaking is that the grapes need to be picked at the precise moment (or as close to it as possible) of perfect ripeness. If that moment happens to coincide with the day of one’s daughter’s wedding, something’s (as the song says) “gotta give!” Somehow the vines managed to slow down the pace at just the right time, and the weekend of the wedding did not include any conflicts with imminently ripe grapes.
It was a beautiful event, a terrific time was had by all. An important transition in the lives of all parties concerned was marked with honor, and grace, and much love. Many laughs issued forth, many tears were shed. Olivia strewed lovely rose petals before the path of the radiant and beaming bride. With fresh lipstick on his cheek from the kiss his daughter bestowed as he handed her off, the old man sang. And the grandchildren danced!
And then, of course, there’s the Giants. Back in April of 1958 my next door neighbor, a very mild mannered, retired gentleman named Oliver Olson, invited me to go see the Giants play the Chicago Cubs at Seals’ Stadium. (He’d moved west from Chicago in the ’30s.) What he didn’t know, when he invited me, was that, only seconds before, while I’d been engaged in very actively imagining that I was destined to be the next Willie Mays, I had managed to drive a baseball through his bedroom window. In fact, when he’d walked out his back door and ambled over to the fence between our yards, and called out my name, I had assumed it was to find out just what the heck did I think I was doing out there with my bat and my ball? When, instead, he said he had a couple of tickets to the game, and would I like to go?, I was mortified. I knew I had to tell him about the window, but I was afraid if I did he’d withdraw the invitation. In the end, I did tell him, and offered to do some chores for him, to work off the value of the broken pane.
So we went to Seals’ Stadium, on a beautiful Saturday in late April. I saw Willie Mays hit his first home run in a San Francisco uniform, and the Giants beat the Cubs, 3-1. It was my first major league game, and I was, from that time, forevermore a Giants fan. Given what has transpired over the course of 45 seasons since, this season past has been too good to be true. After my team took game five of this World Series, 16-4, Cornelia asked me; “what are you going to do when the World Series is over?”
I don’t know. What am I going to do?
“One day the mighty Pharaoh
Becomes the Fallen Sparrow,
After the Summer, when all the lines get blurred;
Today I heard the Earth turning cold below me,
Today I ran into a friend, and he didn’t even know me.
Someone might start a war, with a look,
And there’s no book that could explain
This voice inside the rain, the icebound seed…
There’s not much I need–
Anyway I’m only passing through;
After the summer, there’s so much I’ve got to do…”
After the Summer Steve Edmunds, (January, 2001)