December found me in a new tasting room in the middle of the mighty Alexander Valley, where cabernet is king. After I was laid off from Rafferty Cellars, Rebecca got me this job at DuBey Vineyards as occasional weekend relief. Now, it was I who needed relief from the mind-numbing boredom of this dead tasting room. On a busy day, we might sell about ten bottles. Nobody else worked on the weekends, and during the few times the winemaker showed up to check something I thought I was hearing ghosts.
A flock of starlings flew past the winery as I sat gazing across the vineyards of Alexander Valley, their shape expanding and contracting like the contours of my heart. In that moment, they were my only friends and I really wished some customers would come along to distract me.
Gazing around the room, I thought of the owner Dr. Herbert DuBey, a well-known oncologist at the University of San Francisco Medical Center. He bought the land back in the mid-1980s, probably as a tax shelter, and became a gentleman farmer. Then, he constructed what amounts to an industrial shed to house the winery. The building’s façade is so sterile I imagined it repelled more tourists than it attracted. The corrugated metal siding made the place look like a hardware store and the tasting room like a doublewide trailer. Even I wouldn’t have visited myself there.
Finally, I saw customers drive in and my daydreams drove out. I could hear people entering the winery downstairs and dawdling on the self-guided tour before finally stepping upstairs. I was so impatient for company, I wanted to run out to the catwalk and drag them in.
“Hi there,” they called, from the doorway. “How are you?”
“Great,” I replied. “Now that you’re here.”
They were older, he more than she, and in fit shape. She was small and blond and wearing blue contact lenses. He was tall and lanky. And they both wore designer sweat suits.
“Has it been very busy today?” the woman asked.
“Well, you’re my first customers, if that’s any indication.”
“Oh really? I’m glad we stopped, then. We’ve driven by so many times.”
She looked around the plain, functional room, as if searching her mind for something nice to say. Her partner stood, hands clasped behind his back, examining the wine awards like they were his doctor’s credentials.
“You have such… such a… beautiful view. Oh look, Charley. We can see Mt. St. Helena.”
I wanted to kiss her for accentuating the positive and I envisioned them purchasing more than a token bottle. When they’d meandered to the bar, I poured the sauvignon blanc.
They liked it, but they weren’t raving. Over the Sonoma County Chardonnay, I said, “We also make a chardonnay made from the famous Rued Clone.’
“Did you say rude?”
“Yes, the clone is Rued, but it’s not really impolite. Just shy bearing.”
They snickered at that, so I continued.
“Unfortunately, we’re not pouring the Rued Chardonnay, since they only made about 200 cases. But, it is well-priced at eighteen bucks, especially since it drinks like a thirty-dollar chard.”
“We’ll take two bottles,” the man blurted.