Yesterday I was going to talk about wine, but I got a little distracted by that creepy people ranch in Cobble Hill.
On that same drive with my mom we went into Cowichan Bay to have lunch, and on the way out we passed Divino Winery. I'd seen it many times over the years driving up and down Vancouver Island. It's right off the highway with a big old sign, and every time I'd think that I should check it out, and every time I wouldn't. In hind sight this is weird. I love visiting local wineries. I love wine. This one was so easily accessible and yet I'd never pulled off the road to check it out. Strange.
I mention this to my mom as we drive by it and she makes an executive decision and pulls into the driveway. This leads us through the vineyard to an old wooden structure composed of a covered area packed with bins of apples and the smallest tasting room ever. As we get out of the car we're greeted very enthusiastically by a short, round, old Italian man who immediately starts teasing us with a thick Italian accent and in such a friendly manner I feel like I've known him and have been exasperated by him for years.
We smile and nod our way into the closet sized tasting room. Four other tasters are in the process of being entertained by the half cut middle-aged man behind the counter, and we are ignored. I take in the shelves of wine, the massive clock that is two hours behind schedule and the big magnets that say Tell the truth, and then leave immediately and Today isn't your day for service. Tomorrow isn't looking good either.
The other tasters finally leave, and suddenly we have a new best friend. Joe begins to fill our glasses with very generous samples and talk our ears off about wine. Everything we try is an "unpretentious, bullshitting wine". We have no control over what we taste. Joe even snatched the bottle away from my mom as she moved to turn it around so as to read the label. "Not until you've tried it," Joes says. "Yeah mom," I say, "this obviously isn't a wineocracy. Drink your wine and like it!"
Joe suddenly disappears and is replaced by Joe - um, really? Two guys working here and they're both named Joe? Fortunately old Italian Joe is lovingly referred to as The Old Man, so it`s not too hard to keep them straight. Mom asks a question about the vineyard and The Old Man starts trying to get us to work for him. "You should pick a grapes. People they a lovin' it. You a pretending each a stem is someabody you don't lika so much. Then, snip! You a cut them!" (Please excuse the poor written translation of an Italian accent. I was shocked and appalled to find no English-to-Italian-English translator online.)
As we leave I ask Joe if he's serious about needing pickers and he writes down my name and phone number on the back of a piece of cardboard, then shoves it in a drawer. This filing system does not fill me with confidence. I figure I`ll never hear from him. So I'm surprised when a few days later I get a call asking if I can pick on Friday. This meant cutting into my valuable sitting time, but I decide to make the sacrifice and try it out.
Friday at 9am I'm back at the winery. There are just two of us picking, me and Lois, a middle aged woman who works for the Ministry of Education by day and is a duck keeper and occasional grape picker by night. We're each armed with a pair of clippers and a large bucket. After been warned repeatedly about the various ways I can maim my hand with the clippers and how to avoid them, we're left at the beginning of row of vines and told to go nuts.
Here's how you harvest grapes. One person stands on either side of the vines. You put your hand under a bunch of grapes and snip the stem away from the vine. The grapes fall into your hand, and you drop them into your bucket. You try to remember not to actually touch the grapes as this will lead to you likely chopping off your thumb with the clippers.
That's it. You work your side of the vines, your partner works theirs, and you try not to cut each other when reaching for the bunches that are in the middle.
When I`d arranged this on the phone with Joe a few days before he`d asked if I had any experience picking grapes and seemed slightly concerned when the answer was no. I have no idea why; after about thirty seconds of working I considered myself an expert.
It's a beautiful, sunny day, and despite the very repetitive nature of the work, time speeds by in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion. Lois and I are a good picking team, both happy to chat about anything or just enjoy the sounds of the vineyard. Joe comes by regularly to empty our buckets and supply the occasional beer. By the end of the day my lower back is starting to make itself known due to the thousand or so squats I've done moving from upper to lower branches, and I'm getting the hint of a blister on my thumb from the clippers. But I'm happy to report no cut or missing fingers. Lois and I sit on the back of Joe`s tractor finishing our beers as he drives us back to the shed and I start thinking that farm living can be pretty damn sweet.
We hang around for another hour or so sampling wine and eating a selection of bread and cheese and buffalo jerky, and I learn the meaning of a "bullshitting" wine. It's a wine you can drink while your sitting around bullshitting with your friends. Not that I'd ever walk away from a social situation saying I'm sorry, I can't hang out with you. This wine is too pretentious for a conversation. But this wine does seem to lend itself to lounging outside and talking about nothing.
As I leave I get two big hugs from my new friends Lois and Joe, and an invitation to come pick again. Now comes the hard part. Do I accept payment in cash or in wine? Hmm...