The Wine Immigrant
It was a sunny, warm day in Napa Valley. The clouds floating in the sky were white and fluffy; like a child’s stuffed animal. They were comforting and happy and I squinted up to let this tranquility seep inside of me. The vineyard was bathed in this sunny glory and the buzz of the hummingbirds and people milling about were echoing in my mind. Fountain I observed upon entering the courtyard was small with the estate’s name carved on the back plate. People were dressed in their weekend casual outfits, loafers and white cotton dresses with colorful scarves. Make up and perfume and the smell of money surrounded me and I stopped to observe a couple engrossed in a vivid discussion on the difference between the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 vintage variety. Apparently the 2008 vintage came from a dry year and the wine appeared to be more mature and ready. Malolactic acid matured sooner and the wine was smooth, satisfying the sophisticated pallet of the perky thirty-something-year-old blonde with creamy skin. Her partner was in his fifties with the aviator glasses perched on his hooked nose; crisp blue button-down shirt with folded sleeves shining in the afternoon sun, satin fabric reflecting the rays. With Khaki pants and brown boat shoes he was a walking-talking Vogueesque model of a successful, self-important, aloof divorcee, looking to find the meaning of life in wine.
I turned to walk down the short row of vines used to showcase the variety of grapes that the vineyard was harvesting. I bent down and smelled the Petit Verdot grapes. They were fragrant, sweet and I remembered my grandfather’s grape vines that he kept as a way of shading his front yard. I loved to pick the grapes and eat them, sweet juice streaming down my chin when I would put a big handful of the juicy cluster in my mouth in a rush to go and play with my friends who were waiting outside the front gate. Surge of memories for the lost place in the past, the home I no longer have, my Bosnian roots, and the melancholy settled in on this beautiful sunny day in Napa.
I was now a traveler, an immigrant, an outcast and a transplant, like the vines. The seeds did not carry the DNA of the Cabernet Sauvignon, or the Chardonnay. The seeds did not copy the lineage of the grapes they came from and the wine we drink today would not exist without the transplants, without grafts, without immigrant vines. The seeds would be different, have a different name, different variety, different future, past. The grapes were the soul of the immigrant vintners. They lived in a different land, but gave the same blood that ran through their roots, back in Europe, back in Croatia, on the rocky coast.
As I was guided to the side of the building by one of the vineyard’s employees to begin my tour of the wine making operation I looked back at the name embossed on the fountain and thought of the life path that one man took, from the rugged coast of Croatia to the winding valleys of Napa to pursue his love of wine. What did he find? He found this land, rich and ready to be farmed. He found sweat and work and grapes. He worked for the man, he worked for himself, and he worked as if his life depended on it. It did. It depended on the nature and its willingness to give this man the fruits that he so nurtured and loved; here in Napa; back in the homeland of Croatia. Hardness of the stone by the Adriatic coast and softness of the curved hills of Napa, guiding him, fueling his mystic fight to take the grapes and transform them into the drink that can bring goodness and unity in people but also fuel their darker side, hidden, waiting for the flow to continue into oblivion.
The blonde and her older partner were strolling down behind me, self-important, talking, asking questions, drawing out the words such as “perhaps”, “sumptuous” and “vintage”. They knew their wine. They knew the process, the taste and the pallet.
I sipped the Sauvignon Blanc given to us at the start of the tour. It was light and flavorful, aroma of peach enveloping my mouth. I could taste the man, even though he was in the winter of his life, perhaps fading from the grapes and the land. I tasted his determination and his love. I tasted his inspiration, perspiration, struggle and his dominion over this liquid.
We set in the cellar and the guide was encouraging us to try the Cab’s and the cheeses. I was quiet. The blond looked at me and smiling her white straight teeth smile asked “Are you familiar with the Cabernets?” I must have looked like I needed encouragement to fix my pallet and feel the smooth, rich flavor. I must have looked like I needed help she was so willing to offer to better me, to better the immigrant with her Napa wine knowledge.
“I know the man” I responded and took another sip of the blood of his veins, the sweetness of his sweat and thought of the journey and the mission to take the host nature and transform it for his friends, for the family, for himself. I took a sip of the transplant juice running through the vines over and over, continuing the life of an immigrant. Never dying, never giving up.