Lately, when I sit in front of a blank screen with absolutely no idea about what I am going to write about, one word shouts out to me. Dogs. So today I am going to exorcise, pay homage, or do whatever I need to do to get this voice out of my head.
We have a coyote in the neighborhood and many nervous neighbors. I remember the days in the foothills surrounding Los Angeles, when I was in my twenties and I’d take Aunt Betty’s dog up in those hills. Aunt Betty had passed away and we inherited this old cocka-poo, Fifi. She had long black shaggy hair. So did I. They say dogs take after their owners. Well old Fifi and I were a pair. She loved to go for walks in the hills; it was her time to roam free, like the coyotes we would encounter. That dog would take off like she was a child of those wild ones that made their home in the sage burnished hills. She always returned, but I felt she came back leaving a part of herself in those hills. I know how she felt.
When my son got older than a few months, I’d put him in Aunt Betty’s old Falcon wagon with me and Fifi, and we’d head up into the hills for a walk. This would give his mother some time in the shop to get some work done. My son and I were born within blocks of each other, he in our little California bungalow with a midwife and me in a hospital surrounded by nuns and vineyards. The last I heard, Quentin Tarantino used the forgotten hospital as a set for Kill Bill. It is in an area that was a vineyard for old Los Angeles. On those days when we would head up Eaton Canyon to walk and air out the dog, it was hang time before getting picked by the wine gods to carry on the work that I do.
I believe in some kind of intervention, be it Divine or otherwise ordained by a power larger than all of us. Nature guides and leads us to what we must become and to where we must go in order to express that energy that seethes through our spirit. D.H. Lawrence wrote a poem, called, We Are Transmitters, in which he expressed that idea so beautifully.
Yesterday, a handful of Italian winemakers landed in Texas to visit Dallas, Houston and Austin and transmit their energy to these lands. Ambassadors from Bacchus, dressed in Prada and Gucci. Those stories will follow in days to come. That they are just coming here feels like the reinforcements that get through the lines, once in a while. And while the battle is on the floors of wine stores and in shiny leather booths in dimly lit, fashionable restaurants, the life I have chosen is getting a little bit of help from the ancient vineyards of Italy. Here we convene in Texas, from Italy and California to open bottles and talk to people about the art and the craft and the passion and the love of this concentrated, miracle-blessed grape juice. Funny thing.
How can anyone decide to go into this business and not want to embrace all that it represents from the history of thousands of years of this cycle? How can one not want to squeeze every last ounce of joy from the experience, the gift we have been given to gather and tell stories and open bottles and eat and drink and laugh and love? This sounds so naïve, and that coming from a vet who has been in these trenches for 25 plus years.
If you are in the wine business and you do not feel this I suggest you choose one of several options. It all distills down to this; Get it or get out. Life is too short to waste doing something you cannot throw yourself into 150%.
The other option is to go through the motions. Don’t answer your phone before 9:00AM or after 4:30PM or during the lunch hour, or when you are otherwise occupied. Don’t engage in the dance of the grape. Don’t wake up. Just lie there in the bed staring at the ceiling waiting for someone to rescue you. From yourself.
What about the dog? Well, old Fifi went on to join Aunt Betty, but that old dog had such a nobility about her, something I didn’t quite see so well, until all these years passed ever so quickly. She woke up every morning to answer the call of her destiny, to run with the coyotes, to be as wild as her nature called her to be. To transmit her dog-ness and to teach an old fool in a young man’s skin about life and calling. I will never forget her.