In the Twilight Zone of Wine Jobs

Our lunch hours came and went without a hint of tourists. The estate felt eerily quiet as I sat in the bright courtyard eating my sandwich and studying the Black Madrone Bible. At one point, the marketing manager and Tom Cruise look-alike Kirk came out to chat with me. But other than him, Hilda, and Karen, I saw no human life to justify my employment. This was the Twilight Zone of wine jobs.

The afternoon felt like a weekend. I’d never been good at being idle and this place was already making me crazy. At the point where Karen and I had already wrapped two cupboards full of logo glasses, we heard voices: loud, rambunctious chatter echoing off the covered entryway and projecting excitement. We hurried to the door just as a group of seven twenty-something guys and gals strolled through the deep shade of the passageway. As they sauntered toward Karen and me, I saw Hilda charging out her door with big eyes that screamed: The people! The people!

I was so relieved that somebody had shown up: this monotony was killing me.

While Karen ushered the group inside, Hilda said, “This is the most people we’ve seen since we moved in.”

“I guess I got here just in time,” I said.

As we stood in the doorway, Kirk rounded the corner at a quick pace, wide-eyed.

“What’s going on?” he asked, peering through the shop’s windows. “Do we actually have customers?”

I took my place behind the bar, working beside Karen for the first time. The group was midway through their pours of the Alexander Valley. I got caught up in their conversations about wine, driving, and the back road speed limits, until one man suddenly hushed his posse into a twittering silence.

“I’m getting a feeling,” he intoned, with closed eyes and fingers on temples. “I have this sense – a premonition, if you will – that there is a very special person we must find here today.”

Kirk and Hilda stepped closer.

“Yes, it is a very, very special person. A woman, she is blonde and very attractive. And her name, her name… Mari.” His eyes opened in feigned beneficence. “Yes, Mari. We must find Mari.”

Everybody gaped at me and screamed with abandon, including Hilda and Kirk. I laughed so hard I had to squeeze my legs tight to stop from peeing my pants.

Finally, psychic guy confessed. “Your friend at the last winery told us to come here. Um, what was the name of the place?”

“Dubey,” someone said.

“That’s it, DuBey lady. She sent us.”

So, it was Rebecca who had told them I was here. On my first day on the job, my new best girlfriend sent me a bouquet of human flowers. What a gal.

When I phoned DuBey later, Rebecca laughed.

“I just thought it would be funny to freak you out on your first day,” she said. “And I knew these people would brighten up the place.”

This experience gave me a warm rush of acceptance knowing I’d just impressed my new bosses with the ability and connections to bring people into an as-yet undiscovered winery. But my sense of satisfaction did not end there. I felt the love of a new best friend who evidently had my back. I also had the admiration of the hemp community who wrote rave emails about what I was doing with HempWorld. I’d realized a new level of understanding with my daughter, who had found her groove with a circle of friends from her new school. And I had gained a way to balance my creative life with my wine life.

At this point, there was only one thing missing.

At the end of that first day at Black Madrone, I had spent almost all of my wages on two bottles of Alexander Valley Cabernet. That night, I drank one of them with my fellow wine slut, Rebecca. My preference would have been to drink it with my landlord, and use it as bait to seduce him, before he left next month for a summer in Costa Rica. By the time he returns, we will have moved out of this cottage. He must have known he might never see me again, but apparently that did not make him want to see me now.

I was becoming increasingly lonely and the thought occurred to me: maybe I should become a lesbian and date Rebecca.

White Trash Grenache and Yo Nouveau!

Mouthfeel confessions of a wine slut

For the school assignment, the wine class had broken into five groups of fictitious wineries vying for selection by a fictitious Atlanta distributor played by our instructors, Gene and Ronny. In the next week, our gang of four had to use a list of grapes purchased by our imaginary winery to develop a branded wine package. Then, we needed to prepare a 20-minute sales presentation to convince the Atlanta distributors to carry our products.

That was our challenge the evening we sat around Rebecca’s kitchen table, in her mobile home in the middle of the Alexander Valley. To boost our brainstorming capacity we drank the leftovers of her day at Dubey. Our current thinking was to make our fictitious wine brand super elegant and refined, along the lines of the wineries that employed us, but Greg wasn’t having it.

“Why are we trying to create a stylin’ package when, let’s face it guys, we don’t have any style,” he argued. He wore a purple tee-shirt that said “Lick my Bung,” which emphasized his point exactly.

“You’re right. Why are we trying to be classy?” Rebecca laughed, swirling her wine. “Just because the guy from Matanzas Creek is going upscale? Maybe we should just be ourselves. Like, downscale.”

The other boy, Dylan, a recent high school graduate, sat and nodded his head, eyes wide, listening to the grown-ups talk.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like, low life wine.”

“That’s it!” Greg shouted. “Low brow wine. Nobody in their right mind would do that. We’d be in a category of our own. Good, cheap – but with attitude.” He punctuated “attitude” with a fierce point of his finger. “Something rude. Something Hip-Hoppy. Like, like…” He snapped his fingers in an effort to make words appear.

I scanned the grape list. “You know, with all this gamay and grenache, we could make a fruity red to drink young,” I said.

“Like a Nouveau?” Rebecca said.

“Yo Nouveau!” Greg yelled, with arms outstretched “That’s it. That’s the name!”

“Yo Nouveau,” Rebecca and I repeated. “Yo Nouveau!”

This was our breakthrough. We had a name and the beginning of a marketing concept.

“I know, let’s do the label in bright, florescent colors,” I suggested. “Psychedelic-like.”

“Or Mod. Like from the sixties,” Rebecca said.

“Like Peter Max,” I said. Rebecca, Greg and I nodded, grinning. I grabbed a pencil and started sketching. Being an artistic type, I naturally nominated myself as the creative director. “Maybe I can do this on my computer.”

Then, the kid spoke up and calmed our creative whirlwind. “But what about the other grapes?” We looked at him, blinking. ”What are we going to do with all this chenin blanc and semillon and merlot?”

We all stared at each other. Oh yeah. The kid had a point. What would we do with the rest of our fictitious harvest?

“Well, I’ve often thought it would be cool to buy a package with both a white and a red,” I said. “Like a two-pack.”

Greg rebounded. “Yeah, a red and a white – or no, red and rosé. Like a white zin.”

“White zin for white trash,” Rebecca blurted.

“Or, White Trash Grenache,” I screamed.

We burst into a cacophony of laughter, triumphantly repeating, “Yo Nouveau” and “White Trash Grenache!” 

“And,” Greg laughed, “just think of how the Two-Pack would sell in the rapper market.”

This was going to be great, we convinced ourselves. We were going to get A’s for sure.

[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]We burst into a cacophony of laughter, triumphantly repeating, “Yo Nouveau” and “White Trash Grenache!”[/Tweet]

The Yo Nouveau label came to me easily as I played around on my little Mac SE: Fat globular lettering and balloons of color against a coal-black background. For the White Trash Grenache, I found a watercolor my roommate Evelyn had painted, with a rusty old truck sitting crookedly beneath an orchard. Stephanie helped out by coloring the sky the pink of a “blush” wine. It looked like Norman Rockwell for rednecks.

I constructed the two-pack carrier box with matte board and postal tape and covered it with color photocopies and White Out. Hardly weight bearing; I had to carry the package gingerly from the car to the classroom, like I was conveying a torah.

During our presentation in front of the class, Gene and Ronny struggled to contain their amusement. They sat back in their chairs with arms folded and tried to look tough. They affected southern drawls that rubbed off on us, and things started getting silly before Ronny finally said to Gene, “Ah do believe our company would do well with a product laahk this.” We took that to mean we passed.

In fact, we more than passed, we received A’s for concept, and B+’s for execution. We would have done better in that regard if the handle didn’t fall off of the Two-Pack carrier, which was good for a laugh anyway.

Daydreaming in a Dead Tasting Room

Mouthfeel confessions of a wine slut

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.

[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]“Yes, the clone is Rued, but it’s not really impolite. Just shy bearing.”[/Tweet]

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.