The appearance of yellow leaves among the green ones on the Syrah vines at Bassetti Vineyard on Friday, the third of October, seemed a sure sign that the end of this season was approaching fast. The grapes, themselves, were hanging in there, with a sugar content that had only reached just a bit less than 20%. Given the temperature, roughly 75 degrees, and the persistence of a breeze that felt, perhaps, a bit more than Autumnally cool, I felt my mood darkening.
As I surveyed the grapes, Ellis Bassetti and a neighbor were unloading the bins I’d brought down from Berkeley on the rental truck, bins that would return (I hoped) filled with ripe Syrah grapes, before the leaves managed to lose all their chlorophyll, and fall from the vines. It’s going to be, I thought to myself, another nail-biter.
A nail-biter of a different sort, at the fast-approaching end of another kind of season, had occupied most of my attention over much of the two hundred-thirty-some-odd miles I’d driven that afternoon. As I pulled into the yard next to Ellis’ barn, the Giants were staging an extra-inning rally, to pull ahead of the Florida Marlins by a run. I turned the radio off for the unloading of the bins, hoping when I got back into the truck to find that the rally was still going, a rally that would propel my team back in the direction of the World Series, but it was not to be. Pudge the Magnificent had taken command, and there would be no stopping him.
Suddenly the trip North felt as though it would be twice as long as the journey South had been. I drove toward Paso Robles thinking of food, hoping that staving off hunger might mean lifting my spirits.
I made my stop for sustenance at Villa Creek; it’s usually a busy place on a Friday evening, but this night it was really jumping, and I was lucky to find a seat. Fred, the bartender I’m used to seeing there, was nowhere in sight, and I don’t think I saw a soul I knew during the 45 minutes or so I was there, unless you count the ballplayers I recognized watching the beginning of the Cubs vs. Braves game on the TV above the bar.
The calamari with chipotle aioli took up enough space in my belly, and the Stella Artois on draft (alas, no more Pilsener Urquell) washed it down admirably, and I felt that if I could just find that Chicago-Atlanta game on the radio in the truck I might find some pleasure in the ride home. Hopes for a Giants miracle had been replaced, rather quickly, by a fantasy that had teased me a week or so before: what if the Cubs and the Red Sox ended up in the World Series? The main attraction to this idea seems to be that since each of these teams has labored under what nearly everyone describes as a “curse” for many, many decades, (which curse prevented a World Series title being claimed by either team) if they faced one another in the “Fall Classic,” this year, one team would have to emerge victorious, and then, at last, the curse for that team would be expunged, and we wouldn’t have to talk about it any more. And, of course, the Cubs and the Red Sox play in two of the oldest, most beautiful, and most storied yards in the country, before what must surely be the most rabid, devoted (and let’s not forget jaded, or pessimistic) fans in the country. What a show it might be!
I did, finally, find the game, but being able to actually hear it took some doing. Somehow, at night, as the AM frequencies lose their boundaries, and all kinds of little pieces of drifting broadcasts find their way into a kind of cosmic chatter that overwhelms most of the broadcast from the station to which one has tuned, it becomes necessary to listen in a hyper-attentive way in order to construct for oneself a narrative of the game. Well, that’s all I need to keep me awake on the drive North.
I remember having heard that all the sounds ever generated on this earth are still bouncing around out there in space, and it’s not hard for me to imagine some intelligent Force in the Universe that’s gathered in all the baseball broadcasts over the past 164 years and figured out enough about the game to be interested in the goings-on at Wrigley Field this night. They must be rooting for the Cubs after all these years, don’t you think?
And, of course, by Sunday night the Cubbies have left Atlanta in the dust, and are a step closer to the goal. Meantime, I, myself, am off to Chicago for a tasting my distributor’s putting on for the sommeliers and wine buyers from the area. So I find myself, Monday evening, at the bar at Harry Caray’s, with a fellow winemaker, drinking Red Hook ESB on draft, eating the delicious house-made potato chips, (and the very best octopus dish I’ve ever eaten) and watching the deciding game of the A’s-Red Sox series. Chicago, of course, has caught the fantasy, and, when Manny Ramirez rips a 3-run big fly to left the place erupts. It was the perfect place to be, on this night!
The following night I ate, for the very first time, at Charlie Trotter’s, and it was, in every way, a memorable meal, and a marvelous experience, though I have to confess I kept wishing they had a TV on up near the ceiling, to keep track of the opening Cubs-Marlins game. (I did get to watch the last couple of innings, back at the hotel bar, only to see things go South for the homeys.)
I think we created a nice little “buzz” at my distributor’s tasting, with our new Bone-Jolly Gamay. It’s so much the antithesis of what people expect from California that I think the surprise of that really grabbed some people’s attention. It seems to be a kind of “Stealth” wine.
I realized, after sending out Organolepticians #43, that a lot of people won’t recognize the illustration on the Bone-Jolly label, and I want to rectify that. It was created for us back in 1998 by the immensely talented Tom Rozum, for our newsletter that Fall. I’d wanted a “Day of the Dead” image of calaveras (skeletons) with musical instruments and wine, in a vineyard, after harvest, to set off the text, (part of which we reprinted in #43.) and Tom did a tremendous job of creating a tableau that provided exactly the feel I’d hoped for. When I decided on the name for (and the story behind) our Gamay wine, I again found myself needing a “Day of the Dead” illustration to illuminate the text, and I tried and tried, but just couldn’t find one I felt as happy with as the one Tom had drawn back in ’98. Most people know Tom for his consummate musicianship, (as a mandolinist sans pareil) and his marvelous, soulful vocalizing (most prominently with Laurie Lewis). I’m one of Tom’s biggest fans; he’s one of the most creative folks I’ve met, and it was a great privilege and a treat to have the help of such a gifted artist.
Now I’m back in Berkeley, and I seem to have managed to talk the beautiful Bassetti Syrah grapes into ripening! They arrive late tomorrow, if all goes well, and we can put Harvest 2003 to rest. Hope I have as much luck with the Bambino and the Billy Goat. Oh, yeah, and my right arm. Please think of me kindly, October 28th, that all the kings horses and all the kings men might put things back together, again.