“…any food product that feels compelled to tell you it’s natural in all likelihood is not.”—-Michael Pollan
Thursday, March 13, 2014
The New Wine Fairy Tales: The Apple Farmer and the Talking Owl
Once there was an apple farmer who was very poor. He worked very long hours tending to his orchards, and his apples were of the finest quality. But every year the prices for apples kept falling. Apples from far off lands were much cheaper, and the apple farmer couldn’t compete. The apple farmer’s wife was very unhappy. The couple was poor and nearly starving.
“I’m sick of eating apples,” she told her husband. “Applesauce for breakfast, apple strudel for lunch, apple pie for dinner, all served with apple cider. You know what apple cider is? Mouthwash for pigs.”
One day the apple farmer was out pruning his orchards. He was pruning one of his apple trees when the tree suddenly said, “Hey, fucker, that hurt!”
The apple farmer was astonished, and nearly fell off his ladder. He’d never had a tree talk to him before, only bark. Get it? Yes, even apple farmers have stupid occupational jokes.
“Apple trees can’t talk,” the apple farmer said, despite evidence to the contrary.
“Oh, we can talk alright, dipshit,” the apple tree said, “we just choose not to. We’re not chatty like stinkin’ cherry trees. Cherry trees won’t ever shut the fuck up. We only talk when we have to.”
Then the whole orchard started talking to the apple farmer. It had been many years since the apple trees had spoken, and now they wouldn’t stop talking. And it was the kind of talk that would drive anyone batshit crazy, just random noise. It was like being on the set of “The View.” Bad enough, the apple farmer thought, that I’m going broke taking care of these apple trees, now I have to listen to their stupid conversations all day.
“That’s it!” the apple farmer shouted. “I’ve had it! Tomorrow, I’m chopping down every last one of you. I’m done with apples!” And with that, the apple farmer marched back to his cottage.
“Nice going, asshole,” the apple trees said to the first apple tree that had spoken, “now what are we going to do?”
“Well,” the first apple tree said, “Don’t axe me.”
The apple farmer stormed home and told his wife about his plans to chop down the orchard. “I’ll sell the wood to the local pork smoker, and I’ll use the money to plant a new crop, a crop of something worth some actual money. Though I don’t know what that is yet. Maybe marijuana. That shit talks to you and you just don’t care.”
That night the apple farmer couldn’t sleep. He was determined to take out his orchard, but he didn’t know what to plant in its place. He decided to go for a walk, clear his head with some cold night air, and look to the stars for some guidance.
The apple farmer hadn’t gone very far when an owl landed on a branch just over his head and spoke to him.
“What’s the trouble?” the owl asked. “Shouldn’t you be home in bed with your wife? OK, I’ve seen your wife. Your wife is so ugly, when the dogs in the animal shelter see her, they volunteer to be spayed or neutered.”
“Oh, Owl, I don’t know what to do. I’m going to tear out my apple orchard and plant another crop, but I don’t know what to plant that will make money.”
The owl thought for a minute, and then he said, “Why don’t you plant grapes for wine? Everybody likes wine. And nobody from far-off lands can grow wine grapes like you can grow wine grapes here, so you won’t have any competition.”
“That makes sense, Owl,” the apple farmer said, “you’re very wise.”
“Oh for God’s sake,” the owl said, “that old chestnut. Just stand there a minute while I crap on your head.”
Soon after his meeting with the talking owl, the apple farmer tore out his apple orchard with the help of his wife and many of his neighbors. As quickly as he could, the apple farmer put in a vineyard. Way before the county where he lived could complain that he’d never filed an Environmental Impact Report. He’d received more sound advice about that from the talking owl. “Fuck them,” the owl said. It was a very special vineyard, intended to make the finest wine grapes. Almost 2500 plants were planted to the acre. Oh, shit, I forgot. Almost 6250 plants were planted to the hectare. Fairy tales are on the metric system. Duh. The vines were tighter than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. Why this makes better fruit, no one knows. But it cost the apple farmer all of his savings.
The apple farmer’s wife was not happy. “Are you crazy?” she asked her husband. “The wine business is worse than the apple business. At least you don’t have to talk to the people who buy the apples. Have you ever MET any winemakers?”
Yet the vineyard thrived, and the apple farmer’s grapes were soon in big demand. He added more and more vineyards, meticulously farmed them, and sold the fruit for premium prices. Soon the apple farmer and his wife were living in a big house on the property. The apple farmer wasn’t home much. After his vineyard became famous, the apple farmer had started making his own wine. Wine the apple farmer spent a lot of time trying to sell in the marketplace, to little avail. But the apple farmer was happy. And since he was never home, the apple farmer’s wife was happy too.
One day, after a long trip trying to sell his own wine, the apple farmer returned home to a quiet house. Tired from his trip, the apple farmer climbed the stairs to his bedroom. He was about to open the bedroom door when he heard a familiar voice.
“Don’t worry about me, Baby, I’m always up all night.”
The apple farmer recognized the talking owl’s voice. He burst into the bedroom. The talking owl was making love to the apple farmer’s wife. And she was obviously enjoying it. “Wow,” she said, “you are a great horned owl. Do that thing with your eyelashes again.”
The apple farmer lunged for the talking owl, but the owl was quick, and flew out the bedroom window. “She’s ugly,” he said, “but a talking owl can’t be that fucking picky.”
A few months later, the apple farmer and his wife were divorced. The vineyard had to be sold in the divorce settlement. And sold at a loss, to a wine company that specialized in buying vineyards with money problems caused by divorce.
“I’m a damned good predator,” the talking owl said, “but those guys make me look like a pussy.”
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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