…to the workers who make the wine
December 13, 2007
It was time to write another column. The synapses were working a little slowly so I decided to pour a glass of wine, slow down a bit and gaze out the window. On the radio they were playing a tune from a time past by the Rolling Stones.
“Let’s drink to the hard-working people … let’s drink to the salt of the earth,” a young Mick Jagger sings on the final cut from 1968’s “Beggars Banquet” album. As I sang along it got me thinking about all of the hard-working people who were somehow involved in getting the liquid into my glass. How many people have a hand in some way, shape or form in turning dirt into wine?
Start from the beginning. Before a vineyard becomes a vineyard, there is a financial transaction that takes place. Bankers, brokers, lenders and the like are all a part of the process before the first shovel is turned. Once an owner takes title, then architects, land planners, horticulturists and winemakers come up with designs and drawings and dreams. Where should the winery go? What grapes should get planted and where?
Next come the hard-working people, many of them the immigrants getting so much political attention. In this country they come from Mexico, some legally, some not so. They do the backbreaking work of clearing the brush from the steep hillsides, or tilling the valley floors so that the grapes can be planted. They are the heart and soul of nearly every bottle of wine that is made.
The vines are planted but only after they have been purchased, and there are middlemen for everything. The planting of the grapes is another area where the laborers’ efforts are vital. All the while, the steel tanks and the aging barrels are bought and brought into the winery that has taken shape in the image of the architects’ drawings. Someone bent, welded and riveted the steel for those stainless tanks, someone grew the trees that were harvested and turned into barrels for aging the wine. And someone had to drive all that stuff to the winery.
Then there are the winemakers. If a bottle of wine were a Hollywood film, then the winemaker would be the director. He must pick the right grapes for the site, ensure that they have been grown properly, pick the perfect time for harvesting, blend them just so and oversee the final edit, the aging. He is responsible for his cast of characters, the grapes, and he also is responsible for hiring and overseeing all of the craftspeople necessary to make the wine drinkable. And don’t think for a minute that the devil isn’t lurking in each and every detail.
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Once the wine is made. there are bottles to be bought, labels to be affixed and corks to be put in place. The labels are the product of designers who seek to visually define the wine and make it attractive for buyers. The cork is harvested from trees, much of them found on generations-old farms in Portugal.
Then the wine has to be sold. A network of distributors and representatives works with your wine shop and restaurant sommeliers to sell the wine and get it either on the shelves or in the wine list so you can make a decision about which of the hundreds of wines you wish to buy.
The bottle I have just opened is an Oregon pinot noir. It sold for about $20, and from the first swirl in the glass it brought me sensory pleasure worth much more than that. It is amazing to think so many people put so much effort to get me a product that I will pay less than $20 for, and that will soon be discarded as an empty bottle.
Mick and Keith did not have the makers of wine in mind when they penned “Salt of the Earth,” but it is certainly apropos.
“Lets drink to the hard-working people / Spare a thought for his back-breaking work / Say a prayer for his wife and his children / Who burn the fires and who still till the earth.”