July – October 2015 – Making wine in the desert? – Totally yes. A blurb below, and many more words about Arizona and wine life in general on http://annabellelatz.blogspot.co.nz/
October 16, 2015
No James I’m sorry I never did master what direction North was…. no matter how hard I tried. And Sam, sorry for failing to get good at keeping the front and back doors closed when the air conditioning was on. ‘Bloody kiwi born in a TENT!’
Well that’s that then. My Arizona grape harvest. All over. The grapes are in, pressed, in barrel, and working through their various stages of ferment.
And what a harvest it was.
Certain events in life will significantly shape us.
For example, this one.
For me, there is life before Arizona harvest, and there is life after. Day to day life will not change upon my return to the mighty homeland of Aotearoa. But on the intricate level, things will be a little different.
My outlook and attitude…. to problem solving, working with a wide range of cultures and attitudes, dealing to what Mother Nature can potentially throw our way, and just throwing my hand in and giving something a go, just in case by chance it all works out.
That’s winemaking in Arizona, right there.
In the Wild West, the general work ethos is to get the job done; not necessarily the first time, but to get it done all the same. Machinery may not always be oiled and primed, resources may not always be directly at hand, labour may be scattered. But it’s about needs versus wants, and when it’s mid harvest and the grapes must come in from off the vines into the press it’s all about negotiation, shifting the goal posts yet never losing sight of the big goal. And keeping calm.
And it works a treat. During the hours between the delicate sunrises and the spectacular sunsets, we hummed along nicely at Kansas Settlement in the heart of Cochise County in the south of the State. Sam, James and I each knew our roles within the colourful tune of harvesting grapes and making them into wine. Our work was complimented by the wonderful crew of Mexicans who carried out various roles on the property from grape picking to general maintenance. We collectively and fondly called each other ‘chibos’, (chiba for me…) which was usually illustrated by enthusiastic hollers of ‘hola chibos!!!!!’ to each other, all day.
On my final day, in cleaner clothes than normal, I was packing the car, and Parillia asked ‘Where are you going chiba?’
‘Back home, back to Nueva Zelanda.’
‘No masse chiba!?’
‘No, no masse….’ Gutted.
What followed by a huge hug as my feet left the ground and he twirled me around and gave me a big smooch on my cheek.
‘Muchos gracias chibo,’ I said into his big soft chest as he buried my head in there, mid embrace.
Trinny, with whom I am mutually his chiba favorita, as much as he is my chibo favorito, gave a big hug, a slap on the arm, and the cheekiest of grins. I’ll sure miss that chibo, I told him I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home….
Young Tony, the son of the vineyard manager Cerillo, looked a bit put out when I said I was all done.
“No! Belle stay here! Belle work here!” he said, laughing, and pointing to the floor of the cellar.
I watched with fascination during my weeks the collective work culture over the past few weeks within the Mexican culture. Although there is never a call for much urgency in their work, they had a magnificent ability to band together and get tasks done when most needed. Perhaps not in the most efficient manner, but man power is a key factor in their work style, and it works.. well most of the time.
Cerillo might drive the 20 mile journey to Willcox four times a day to purchase one piece of machinery or key equipment at a time, but he’s always on hand when you need him, and when push comes to shove that’s essential.
I’ll miss the sunsets and the sunrises that blacken the surrounding mountains. I’ll miss the sound of the howling coyotes at bed time. I’ll miss the freshly dug mounds of dirt from the nosy and busy gopher snakes. I’ll miss the big ol’ dusty pick-up trucks making tracks on the dirt roads, graced by smiling faces and giant cowboy hats in the driver’s seat. I’ll miss the blank looks from Willcox locals when I say I’m from New Zealand over in their homeland making wine. I’ll miss the daily hard graft of the winery; lifting the heavy press doors, dragging around bins of grapes, hosing down freshly used equipment in the searing heat, the daily plunging of the red ferment caps, emptying the big press of white grape skins. I’ll miss the cute road names like Dreamcatcher, Blue Sky, Flying Leap, and Singing Arrow. I’ll miss the harvest and road trippin’ anthem that James and I coined. Chris Janson ‘Money can’t buy me happiness… but it can buy me a boat, a truck to pull it, a yettie 110** ice down and some silver bullets…..” and so it goes on. America! Wash it down with a Bud Light…. Land of the Free! Home of the Brave!!
I won’t miss the fruit flies. Or the bat shit. Or getting pulled up by cops (in co-pilot position) for driving a measly five miles over the speed limit in a National Park, or for having a cracked windscreen.
I’ll never forget the post harvest camping holiday with James and his boat….After nine weeks of grafting seven days a week, once all the fruit was in and safely into barrel, I was introduced to his childhood holiday stomping ground of Lake Powell, towering above the Grand Canyon. Spectacular to say the least. The closest I have come to a perceived alternative planet experience. Bunking down for the night in canyons boasting orange and overhanging cave walls, the boat anchored, surrounded by a small beach and crystal clear water, cooking some good tucker on the cooker followed by toasted marshmallows and red wine. The boat motor kept tripping us up, but James the master of fix-it, just kept on.. well, fixing it. Good stuff mate.
I’ll never forget the hike Aussie winemaker Brad and I did up amongst the Chiricahua Monument, a sacred place of the local Native American tribe many years ago. Up on the horizon, as we took five minutes to admire the view, out of nowhere, and from a location we could not quite pin point, an instrument sounding similar to a flute, started to play. The soft whistle bounced delicately off the surrounding rock formations. It halted our breath and minds, humbling us instantly. A stark contrast to the scene just a couple of hours prior, when we were halted road side en route to this hiking spot; bonnet popped and narrow tree branches in hand we tried to rid the radiator of its abundance of mowed grass which had made its way in there, causing substantial engine overheating. It’s the Wild West, you just get shit done.
And I’ll never forget the day the forklift broke down, (this time for once and for all). James was busy in Tucson, our usual saviour during such events. Pressing the bins of Grenache skins still had to happen that day, so with me inside the giant bin of over one tonne of juicy matter, and Sam on the outside, we bucketed and shovelled three of these bins into the wee little red press, one at a time. It was messy fun and hard work. But time flies when you have Sam telling stories of his early film making days in New Zealand, like his experience with the film crew on the road from one end of the country to the other as assistant director of the auld Kiwi classic Good Bye Pork Pie; the journey of a mini. Or all the time he spent up in the top of the North Island, documenting the ways of Maori life and culture in the 1970’s.
Heading back up north to Phoenix this week provided a chance for James and I to reflect, laugh, and share highlights about the 2015 harvest for Rune Wine and Pillsbury Wine Company. Alongside Sam we formed a bloody strong team, constantly giving each other grief, compliments, encouragement and assurance. When the chips were down with one of us, they would soon be recovered by the other two. Words were seldom minced, moods were always honest. Positivity and hard work was the unspoken work ethos we all lived by. They’re a pioneering bunch out in the Wild West of Arizona; collectively starting a new page in a winemaking tale that tells the journey of the world’s oldest drink. They’re having the best fun ever. And I was lucky enough to be a small part of their story.