Farm To Farm

by Spec MacQuayde, February 1, 2012

The week after Christmas the boys, my second ex, and I stayed in the home of Luke and Emily Frey, in Redwood Valley.

"The Frey winery?” my mom asked, over the phone. “Howie, Spec's staying at the Frey winery!” They made me promise to take a bunch of pictures. Turns out my folks, who are retired Lutheran School teachers living on the prairies of Northeast Nebraska, ONLY drink Frey wine on account of the sulfites added to conventional wine as a preservative, which gives my dad headaches. Wine that is produced organically does not contain added sulfites.

"I can't believe you can get [Frey wine] out there,” I said, adding that I would try to take pictures, but warning that I'm no good at it. Nobody in our family is. Old-fashioned Lutherans have a lot in common with the Amish, psychologically, and we still feel guilty snapping photographs, or posing, so my fingers always quiver with pilgrim stagefright, and the faces are usually blurred beyond recognition. “Maybe Cassandra will take the pictures."

Cassandra is my second Ex, and a sharpshooter with the camera. “I think something's wrong with the camera,” she said as we accompanied Luke and Emily's son, Daniel, and about a dozen goats on their daily walk through the vineyards, where they grazed on cover crops, weeds, perennial leaves of bushes. Here were the pictures, I thought. Damn. The boys were riding on the goats' backs like a rodeo, falling off into glistening oat leaves, but the camera I'd purchased at a drug store would not accept the SDS card. Fifty bucks, I thought, as Cassandra handed the piece of shit to me. “It says, MEMORY FULL."

No pictures for Mom and Dad, but we had a great stay at the Freys'. As I travel from farm to farm, I can never help asking myself, “Do I wish I was these guys?"

The answer is almost always, No. Sometimes it's a “not really,” and often it is a resounding, “Hell No,” which is why I resort to fiction.

Staying in the home of Luke and Emily, where the meat, milk, vegetables, even some of the grain is raised on the soil between the grapes, I had to admit that I wouldn't mind being in their shoes. They are actually doing what the people in the current Local Food movement, an offshoot of the old Back to the Land movement, aspire to do, thanks to a combination of luck, genious, and perserverance. They're also making money, which is what the rest of us aspire to do. The first grapes were planted several decades ago, when Luke and his dozen brothers and sisters were kids running around barefoot in cow pastures. It was the kids who put the cuttings in the ground and carried water in buckets to establish them. When Luke was a young feller he worked for the Fetzers, learned about wine making. His brothers and sisters played different roles getting the business established, and the winery grew organically, you might say, from the ground up, as all the crushing equipment, the tanks, they found second-hand, more like hand-me-downs from the established wineries. They started using nitrogen gas to displace the oxygen under every cork, in lieu of preservatives.

On New Year's Eve I spoke with Luke's brother, Paul, who had just returned from Atlanta where organic wine producers had battled in the courts over whether to allow the use of sulfites as a preservative. “We actually dug up records from the sixteenth century, to prove that added sulfites had not always been part of wine-making,” he said. “I mean the original documents."

I wasn't taking notes, but it sounded like the anti-sulfite crowd won out, for now, though the whole issue will be redebated in a few years.

Since my parents had sprung to fly my pauper ass out to Mendo for the holidays, I really had to send a box of wine to Nebraska. You can ship wine to Nebraska, it turns out, but not Indiana.

"What kind do they prefer?” asked the ladies in the office.

"They're midwestern Lutherans. They always choose plain white or red. It's not really what they prefer. What do you like?"

She said the 2010 Zinfandel was her favorite. After that, the 2009 Petite Sirah.

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