Thursday, September 19, 2002


We pressed tonight, Niko and I, with a little assistance from Mommy of course. She helped carry out the half-ton bin that's been getting in our way in the garage/winery (and which ought to be returned to its owner, Mr. Casey Hartlip of Eaglepoint Ranch, sorry Case). For her efforts I gave her grief about not reading my mind and knowing that I wanted her to turn that way with this very heavy and awkward box, while she was turning the other way. It's true, I can be an asshole.

Niko, meanwhile, was rapid-firing "Whys?" and I gave most of them good, solid consideration. A few, however, I measured to be not serious inquiries and brushed them aside without comment. Though it was 12 hours into his napless day he was a good companion, until something led Mommy to say "No!" and that brought tears. He is a sensitive lad, just as his daddy was when he was a boy. I feel a tightening in my chest every time I see this on display, a tug at the heart. And yet there's a part of my that will mutter, "What a crybaby." The psychology is obvious: I need to come to terms with my own vulnerabilities, need to accept the fragile nature of my own psyche.

Ah, maybe tomorrow.

We press right out in the driveway with the garage door open and the winemaking paraphernalia accessible. Folks passing by give the goings on a look. Kurt, our octogenarian next-door neighbor, did so, up close, and dropped off homegrown tomatoes while he was at it. We were grateful, for we are tomato growers and eaters and can never have enough. Who could? Back in 1997, Rebecca and I traveled to—of all places—the Flint Hills of Kansas in order that I might participate in the Death Ride, an 80-mile off-ride cycling race conducted in 90-degree heat and 85-percent humidity. On the night before the ride the organizers tossed a big party and we heard some sweet Kansas girl sing a song of her own called "Homegrown Tomatoes," in which she rhapsodized that in life only two things are free, and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes. Yep. And that was a sweet night, and a sweet trip, from the flat tire in Reno to Hasty Lake where we took that cute picture to the crappy coffee in those Plains states diners—thank you, my dear.

By the way, that ride featured the one true bonk in my life. Sixty or so miles into it, at the last rest stop, I got off my bike to put food and drink into my sagging self. It would be an hour before I would ride again. I ate a bit; my stomach did a few flips. I tried to drink a little and that came back up. Finally I sat in the cool creak to beat the heat, and fell asleep right then and there. A half hour later I stirred. I felt awful, still, but hungry. I ate something, can't remember what, and after a tense moment realized it would stay down. Drink, too. I noticed riders passing through, including one older fellow, a real live gray beard. C'mon, man, I said to myself. He's got to be 60! Off I went, walking first, then riding, then riding hard. I finished. Strong.

Another visitor as we pressed tonight was a neighbor whose name I have not yet learned. She and I have a history, however. One early morning during our first summer in Napa I scampered out to the sidewalk to pick up the newspaper. Clad, I was, in only my skivvies. It couldn't have been past 6. Was hardly a risky move. I wasn't naked, for crying out loud! So this neighbor lady, who I will guess has rounded the 60 bend, happened to be out for her morning power walk. She appeared just as I picked up the paper and turned back for the house. She wore headphones and, noting my attire, a look of ecstatic shock. I had on no less than I do when I go for a run, but apparently it makes a big difference, running shorts vs. white Fruit of the Looms. Anyway, tonight it was an evening walk for her and she wondered what was up. Funny that right here in the winemaking capital of the United States, in one of the great wine regions of the world, right here in Napa, a name known by little French boys and girls, there are people who view a fellow in the 'hood making wine a curiosity. Or maybe she just a had a certain picture of me stuck in her head.

The pressing went well and Rebecca, whose palate is tremendous, confirmed what I was beginning to suspect: This wine is not as horrid as I feared. I mean, just-pressed wine can be nasty and when I tasted this newborn Pinot a day earlier, I nearly gagged. But now? Hmm. There might be hope. Light-bodied but spry, with some bright hard-to-peg fruit prominent. Hmm.

I dumped the wine, all purple and teeming with yeast and disintegrating pulp, into four 6.5-gallon and two 5-gallon carboys. I sloshed the juice around quite a bit. Everybody tells you to be careful with Pinot but at this point I see no problem with giving young wine, any young wine, a nice dose of oxygen. It's going to be stuck in the damn barrel for months without racking (I rarely rack; don't much believe in it plus it's a pain in the ass), so this is its chance to breathe a bit. Macro-oxygenation, eat ease a leetle, how you say, technique of mine, no?

Niko was done before I was, and Rebecca took him upstairs to get ready for bed. A few minutes later I went up and read the story about the seal who gives her pup squid, then Niko hit the booba and it was lights out on another day of little-boy adventure. Rebecca disengaged to work on, a project nearly two years in the making, and I went back down to clean up. Got the gold nozzle that gives a good jet of spray despite our lousy water pressure and hosed everything clean, and it felt good. While cleaning, it hit me that I'd made wine again. We got up early one Sunday 11 days ago and with the help of friends picked grapes and now there was wine. This is life, I thought. Creating. Creating from the earth. Something of the earth. Way cool.

Meanwhile, I had the tube a-glowin' and it showed Livan Hernandez getting slapped this way and that by the Dodgers to the tune of six runs in the third. When I finished my work I stuck with the game, despite the hopelessness of it. The garage door up front was open and the back door at the other end was too, and after a 97-degree day the cooling air was beginning to stir, moving through, brushing past, and so I watched the game, and looked at my wine, and sipped a decent Cab from Yakima Valley. Life is good, I thought. But … it would be better with a sandwich, so I scurried inside and sliced some fresh tomatoes, mashed some avocado, grabbed some turkey and cheese from the fridge, and threw it all together. I was back in front of the tube in 3 minutes, baby wines by my side. This Pinot Noir. Might not be bad.