Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Winemaker, Part I

Not all the must had spilled, there were still--what, fifty?--gallons of liquid left in the tank.  Fifty of 2,018, resting swamp-like around some stray piles of soggy, pale Cabernet Sauvignon skins at 1.5 brix. The rest was on the floor and in the drain.

The Winemaker jumped down off the ladder where he had been assessing the loss.  He took an ineffectual deep breath.  On the workbench there was a dusty, warm but unopened bottle of Stone IPA. He drank it quickly.

This was not the sort of crisis The Winemaker was trained for, and anyway, the suggestion that he was or wasn't "trained" for anything pissed him off.  Training was for cellarhands and dogs.  The Winemaker wasn't trained for things, he knew them.  Maybe he had learned them somewhere from someone once, but the knowledge was only his now.

He glared at the tank, the oversized, overcomplicated auto-rotating fermenter that was completely wrong for this winery.  The owner had bought it back in February when a sales slimeball named Chazz cold-called the old man and made his easiest sale of the week, convincing the owner in exactly four minutes that there was no better use of $125,000.  If he cared about putting his name on great red wines, that is.

For years The Winemaker had begged The Owner for a couple more 250-gallon tanks, a Waukesha pump, a dissolved oxygen meter for the lab, an electric forklift--things that would actually make his life easier, which meant they would make the wines better.  Same reply every time--Work with whatcha got!

When The Owner announced that a rotator was en route and that he wanted a press release about it to go out right away, The Winemaker had stormed out of the meeting.  For $125K he could have had all--well, almost all--the gear he wanted, with money left over to add more hands to the sorting table turing harvest.

Instead he got this horizontal Rube Goldberg contraption that The Owner insisted he keep in constant use so he could brag about it when he brought his Florida golf buddies through the winery.  This torpedo-like vessel that was programmed to rotate automatically three times every 24 hours so the cap of grape skins would disperse throughout the fermenting juice.

That The Winemaker had hooked up a hose and pump to the night before, in order to save a little work on the drainage that was scheduled for this morning.

That he had forgotten was programmed to rotate at 7 AM.

That had started rotating before anyone was at work, yanking the hose around the body of the tank.

That had dragged the faithful old Moyno pump along the ground, roughing it up but not lifting it into the air or ripping the hose from its inlet.  Instead, the break that had to occur somewhere occurred at the main tank valve.

That now had seven tons of Cabernet Sauvignon skins, every one of which contained years' worth of vineyard management and labor, mounded under it.

Where the fuck was The Assistant?  The Assistant needed to be here to start dealing with this.  Come to think of it, this was exactly the sort of screw-up The Assistant was always on the edge of doing.  Away for the weekend.  Against his better judgment, the winemaker had granted The Assistant's request for the weekend off.

He had to get outside.  The swollen, carbon dioxide-rich air was making him sweat and spin.  He went out the back door of the winery and walked to the Rousanne block where The Guys were pruning.  It occurred to him that locking the doors would have been wise, in case someone from the tasting room tried to bring an unannounced tour in. On the other hand, maybe that would teach them to stop the unannounced tours--all the fucking tours--once and for all.

"Ey!  Necessito dos hombres.  Con palas," The Winemaker called.  Some glances were exchanged across the squat rows of vines, then Agustino and Juan Luis started for the shed.

Back in the winery The Winemaker showed them where to shovel the mess and where to dispose of it.  He locked the doors and thought about what to tell the owner as he looked hopefully for another beer somewhere.  The wine that had been in that tank would have mostly ended up in $24 bottles.  Roughly eight tons meant roughly 1,800 gallons, which meant roughly 9,000 bottles, which meant roughly $216,000 no longer coming in.  That was roughly double his salary.

Rough, thought The Winemaker.

There were all kinds of insurance policies taken out on the whole operation--the owner was addicted to insurance--so he wasn't going to start thinking of it in terms of lost money yet.

It started rotating at a time it wasn't programmed for, came together in his head.  That's what he would say.  The computer didn't keep its own records, or if it did, no one else would know the first thing about accessing them.

We never should have gotten it in the first place--I was right.  The Winemaker practiced saying that.