Monday, August 22, 2016

Harvest Widow Pride

"Go daddy's wingard! GO DADDY'S WINGARD!"

That's our two-year-old's rebel cry this morning, earnestly fastening the Velcro on his sneakers, pushing us out the door to go to daddy's vineyard (which technically isn't daddy's vineyard, but that nuance is lost on a two-year-old). We told the kids at breakfast that the day's adventures included a trip to one of daddy's growers and tasting, smashing, and juicing grapes. I'm not sure which element has our littlest guy so excited - I'm guessing it's the smashing - but needless to say he's ready to get the show on the road. If only I could get this sort of enthusiasm when we actually have to get somewhere.

We pile into the car (in record time!) and head towards Coombsville, the newest AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Napa Valley. Nestled in the hills to the east of downtown Napa, Coombsville is especially breathtaking for it's sea of rolling vineyards, silhouetted against Vaca mountain range. Along the drive my winemaker husband tells us how this particular vineyard is his favorite to walk at dawn, the sky saturated with pink and orange, the landscape blanketed with fog. As we wind down country roads, I look out at the farm and ranch houses dotting the landscape and imagine what it must be like to wake up to this view every morning. This is the life my husband and I dream of affording one day.

Grapes

Today's mission has a purpose - sampling grapes for ripeness. It's mid-August and harvest's annual whirlwind is nipping at our heels. The season officially began for our family last week, when my husband's winery had it's first Chardonnay pick. Today's vineyard trip checks off the boxes of work and family time, the latter being at a premium as we will not see much of my husband for the next two months. We each have a marathon before us - his awash in grape juice, mine as a single parent (aka. "harvest widow").

Despite what I know is ahead - incessant "When will daddy be home?" questions, bath time meltdowns because mommy's mo-hawks don't hold a candle to my husband's, a sense of loneliness after the kids go to bed - I have an incredible sense of pride in this time of year. Above all I am proud of my husband, who has risen to become winemaker at one of the most renowned wineries in the valley. This is the season when his expertise shines; when each day he makes a hundred decisions to translate his vineyards' bounty to the bottle. But I am also proud to play my own harvest role by shepherding our family through this challenging time of year. Those on the front lines are the heroes, but they could not do the work that they do without the army of supporters behind them. We help them be at their best so they can craft the wine that makes the Napa Valley famous.

Walking VInes

When we arrive at the vineyard our boys can't jump out of their car seats fast enough. They take off like shots down the rows, running until they are little specs in the distance, stopping every few minutes to pluck a grape from a vine and pop it in their mouths. My husband walks up ahead with a Ziploc bag, picking grapes at random. We spend the next half-hour walking down every fourth row or so, so that at the end his bag is full of grapes that represent the overall profile of the vineyard. Our sons assist by declaring that everything is ready to eat - oops, I mean pick - and scouting out our path with machetes made of old vine canes.

Back home the bag of grapes is smooshed with gusto by little hands, the fresh grape juice decanted into jelly jars for the official taste test. Sticky hands and sticky smiles abound. My husband's take is that the berries are still too tart. The refractometer he uses tells him the juice is at 21.3 Brix (a measure of density that roughly approximates sugar), and he'd like to see it between 23 and 24.

Juice

This week things will really start ramping up for our family as all of my husband's Chardonnay vineyards - including this one - are tracking to be picked within the next few days. Then in quick succession will come the Sauvignon Blanc, the Cabernet, the Zinfandel, the Merlot, the Petit Sirah - the list goes on. Within a week or two my husband and his winery team will likely be at work from before sunrise to 10pm or later, processing up to 60 tons of fruit a day.

And at homes like ours throughout the valley, spouses, kids, grandparents and friends will keep things humming so that their loved ones can surrender to the all-consuming nature of harvest. Robert Mondavi once described Napa Valley wine as bottled poetry; families provide the paper upon which it is written.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Dancing in the rain

Parallel parking at Napa library one morning, the bumper sticker on the beat-up 1980's Chevy sedan in front of me caught my eye.  It was a day when I wondered if my sanity had been lost when I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. After the typical battles of eating breakfast (no, I'm not whipping up waffles and bacon today - enjoy your oatmeal), getting dressed (that underwear goes on your bum, not the rocking horse's...), and brushing teeth (honey, please don't use your toothbrush to clean the countertop) we were running behind on our errands, but the phrase emblazoned on the bumper made me stop for a moment and smile.

"Life isn't about how to survive the storm, it's about how to dance in the rain."

We had been living in a metaphorical torrential downpour for months. We'd recently bought a house in need of much fixing, survived the stress of moving with two little ones constantly underfoot, burned the midnight oil with work projects, and - overall - had simply been overwhelmed by life. It was one of those periods where you start to expect things to always go wrong because nothing ever seems to be going right.

It may be silly to say a quote on a muddy, dented bumper was the impetus of a fresh start, but it's true. It spoke to my heart. It's almost as if God placed it there for me to see.

I sat there for a moment and took a deep breath. Despite two tireless toddlers bouncing out of their car seats behind me, there was a moment of quiet within. And it was in that moment of quiet that I felt the start of a new beginning. A clearing of the mind, a recognition of blessings, and the emergence of a less stressed, more glass-half-full person.

Perhaps it was the word "dance" that really spoke to me, because as soon as we got home I blasted techno music and the kids and I shook our booties like it was going out of style. With arms flying and tapping feet christening the bare floors of our new home, the kids and I spun and tumbled and laughed. As I lay, heart pounding, on the floor - two little bodies using me as their jungle-gym - I realized that I had forgotten how good it felt to just let go and feel alive.

A rainbow breaks through the clouds close to our new home.

This year I've gotten pretty familiar with storms, and that's not only because we're in the middle of El Nino here in the Napa Valley. I've learned that life - especially with kids - is a storm. It will always be a storm. Sometimes it may be drizzling with a beautiful rainbow on the horizon, sometimes it will be pouring, and sometimes - like our 2015 - you'll need a raft and life-jacket to stay afloat. But even if the world is raging around you, you can find joy within. You just have to awaken your spirit - and dance - to find it.

Cheers to a great 2016. May you always find time to dance.

Julie

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