Tuesday, March 20, 2007


(Rachel and Eric had brought their children, who played with ours. While the planting was going on, this little tribe of mischief makers was roaming the grounds, and having a general good time. A few times they even helped.)

Neither Dominique nor I are farmers, which makes us bad prospects to be winery owners. But it is a fact we have decided to deal with. In recent emails back and forth with the New York State Winegrowers Association we had come to terms with the simple fact that we had better be prepared to get our hands good and dirty.

Dominique grew up on a small farm in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. They had chickens and horses and a large vegetable garden, amidst a sprawling 35 acre spread in hunt country Pennsylvania. I on the other hand I had matriculated through various suburban neighborhoods around the metropolitan region. The closest we came to a garden were the weeds and vines that encircled our house. I had once manned my deceased grandfather’s hand push-mower, like some old timer, the spindle of curved blades swishing through the wet, soggy grass.

We had read copious amounts and attended seminars filled with endless information about vine selection, winter hardiness, planting, trellising, caring, spraying, pruning, training, and harvesting the vineyards. After attending the "Scared Grape" seminar I was even more upset at the prospect that I had truly pissed away the years of scrimping and saving for just this moment.

(We soaked the vines for hours before planting.)

They talked about cover crops, sprayers, hilling, bud break, and I sat there, scared straight, and absolutely absorbed, and thought, oops, this was definitely a mistake. At one point one expert came on and asked the crowd how many in the room had children under 12 years old. He said he was sure we all held out aspirations that our children would join us in communing with the land and eventually want to make wine. He said he had three sons, all of whom individually found ways to destroy the current tractor of the day (one rammed his into their barn, one hit a telephone pole, another stranded one on top of a large boulder). All three now live in New York City.

(Dylan by the soaking vines.)

On top of this was mother nature. Downy mildew, Japanese beetles, deer, birds, moles, and other assorted pillagers were waiting to ransack your lovely little row of fruit vines. Several unnamed vineyard veterans admitted that they ate more venison than they wanted local authorities to know. And of course there were beetle traps, bird netting and spraying again and again…coper sulfate and round-up ad a number of other products that sounded very much like the chemicals we keep under the sink at home.

As I was told, starting a winery is a lot about ignorance, because if you really knew what was involved, you might not do it. It’s also a lot like the concept of fire. You tell a toddler fire is hot, the stove is hot, you will get burned, don’t touch. And of course, they can’t wait to touch. I am a toddler. All winery owners to a large extent are. Humans have the gift of communication, yet we choose to ignore the benefits of that gift time and again.

(Dominique planting vines)
We had dreams of planting Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay…maybe some Merlot. We had heard Pinot Noir was testy, maybe we would wait a year, we thought. By the time the seminar was ended our first two acres would be planted, we decided on hybrids. They are not as sexy as the classics, but they are a lot more winter hardy, which for us is a boon, and they are hardy to survive us, and our ignorance. And so we ordered 400 Seyval Blanc, 200 DeChaunac, 200 Channcelor, 200 Golden Muscat grapes. Basically we bought the vines most other vineyard owners can’t kill. Now we’d just have to see how hard we’d have to work to destroy as many plants as possible in one growing season.

(Friends Eric and Rachel)

Then my brother, Eugene, his girlfriend, my cousin Daniella, and my friends Eric and Rachel showed up We now had an army, including a few employees of Skip's who also helped out. With the holes being marked, we went into the large barn and pulled out 10 large boxes of 2 year old vines. We separated them by type and started to soak in large tubs the vines that would be planted in the back.

(My brother Eugene helping us during the planting)

It was Dominique's birthday. And he birthday would be the planting of the vineyard.
We had a massive irrigation system to set up in the mean time, prepared to water vines all the way out into the fields. I had bought more than 1,000 feet of garden hosing, which it turned out was not enough.

At the same time, I had been assembling in the kitchen a caabinet I had started the night before. I needed to finish it, as there were many folks out in the field, and they would soon need to be fed and bed. With a half asembled cabinet, it's parts strew all about the kitchen, I needed to get the cabinet assmbled. Everytime I came int he house from the fields, I assmbled a few more parts, and then went back outside.
Dominque came up to me with a cell phone.
"What kind of bed do you want?"
"It's 1-800-matress. Do we want a good bed or a crudy bed?"
"Mind as well buy a good one." I said gritting my teeth. "OK?"
"Fine." She then asked me for my credit card since she didn't carry hers with her out in the field.
Then I asked Ben to continue to asemble the cabinet for a minute while I went out to the fields. He was quite put off, but was nice enough to help.

Now that the vines had been soaking, we were ready to put the first vines into the land. Each vine looked like something out of Harry Potter or some witch folk tale. They were long and spindly like large dead spiders or the discarded animals who strangle unwitting victims in the Aliems movie series. You took the stalk, shoved the thick roots into the hole, and filled the hole with dirt. I thught it seemed kind of simple, but apparently, I had done it wrong. So did others. Dominique corrected us. Eventually, we got a few right.

"Ben's bored out of his mind inside. Let him come out here and work and you go in and finish that damned cabinet you started," she said aggrivated. I sighed.
I stomped in the house. Ben was lost trying to assemble the furniture. He looked up. I smiled.
"How about I put together this piece of crap, and you go plant some vines." He shot Up like a rocket, smiled, and was out of the house before I could turn my neck to watch him go.

So here we were. The entire entourage was outside, planting my vineyrd, while I was inside, putting together a white china cabinet in the kitchen I could see them form the kitchen windows, working the fields, planting the vineyard. This was irony. My life long dream was being realized by other people, while I WATCHED FROM MY KITCHEN, WITH A SCREWDRIVER AND AN ALLEN WRENCH IN MY HAND. "A" shelf goes into "B" side using a dowel with glue and turn hidden screw counter clockwise 1/4 turn.

By 1 pm we offered lunch. Large sub sandwiches, potato chips, sodas. We ate quickly, with clean hands and dirty faces. Some used the bathroom, and we were all back out in the fields in minutes. By now the front was almost planted, And Skip and company were finished drilling holes in the back. Teams of folks ran up and down the rows with large groups of soaked vines, Stick 'em in the hole, cover it with dirt, go to the next hole. My friend Eric, who's a construction executive, commanded the crews from the vine tubs, making sure the right vines were going in the right rows.

When I finally finished the cabinet, I was ready to go back out to the fields. Just then Dominique came in and told me to get ready to put the bed together. The bed would be here any minute. My son Dawson helped me put the frame together. We hit the walls a couple of times. I got my thumb caught in setting up the bed frame. I cursed again.

By the time I got back out there, I helped plant maybe a couple dozen vines. But that was it. It was done, and while all my friends and family had come through, I had missed most of the planting if my own vineyard. My brother on the other hand, a banker by trade, had a ball.
That night we ate wonderful pasta my cousin Daniella made, and we opened some upstate New York sparkling wine. It was cold and delicious. And we celebrated Dominique's birthday with some wine and cake. We all took turns taking showers, and then haivng a glass of wine. It had been a long time since any of them had worked so hard. We were all sore.

(My cousin Daniella...an invaluable field-hand and a great cook)

We ate and drank, and talked about the day. We sat in the kitchen for a while. Eventually, people started to dissapate. Eric and Rachel and the kids had to leave. Skip and his son were gone. But my cousin and brother and his girlfriend stayed over. The guest rooms in the house were full. We hung out in the kitchen, drinking wine and beer.

We had planted Dominique's Vineyard.

(end of day 2)


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