My name is Elva. I am Swiss, not Swedish as some mistake me for. An error which does tend to get under my skin. I cannot speak for Nordic technical engineering skills, however, I doubt they’ve reached the height of us Alpine people. Should you need convincing, simply glance in my direction. I insert large corks precisely and with little effort into glass bottles containing effervescent wine. What’s more, I gracefully wind wire hoods to secure the cork tightly and safely. I am few in number, built by hand entirely of stainless steel and brass.
Sadly, my place of birth does not require my skills. Such is often the way of things among my brethren. Will I ever lay eyes on my dear land of edelweiss? I know not. So with a heavy heart, I bid adieu. Auf wiedersehen, I cry!
Ils ont des pupitres? I stand saluted by proud oak riddling racks. Well, life has a way to surprise even the most jaded among us. Perhaps a deep ocean separates me from the Old World yet I notice my employer has certain appreciation for the way things used to be done. I find that very agreeable. I see it everywhere and not just things to do with sparkling wine. Outside, there is an old lady with a blue rinse who grunts and chokes black smoke when she starts up in the morning. Often, I hear her in the distance swearing, as the French are oft to do, as she drags heavy equipment up and down the vineyard behind her rather broad girth. Though not Swiss, she works hard and well. Her name is Birdie and I admire her.
I have a nice spot in the winery by a stone wall where I quietly do my work. There is even space beside me for a future colleague. My employer agrees with my assessment that a doseuse can dose and top up a bottle much more effectively than by hand. I hear the older models are quite beautiful. I look forward her arrival and shall certainly make her feel welcome here.
Some 3,500 years ago when Phoenician merchants set sail across the Mediterranean from their island city of Tyre on the eastern coast trading and establishing colonies, they brought with them not only their unique, simple alphabet, first to the ancient Greeks who saw early on its potential and who then later passed it to a receptive Roman audience, but also an unfathomably expensive dye. Tyrian purple. Long before Elizabeth I made it illegal for non-royals to wear or even well before popes began to fancy themselves monarchs, this dye was so far beyond the reach of even the very wealthy that mostly only emperors and kings could wear it. Murex, a spiny predatory sea snail, unfortunately for itself, was the only source of colour fast purple. The colour, gleaned from a defensive mucous gland was so strong, it deepened and improved with age. It could take over 10,000 to turn even just the trim on a robe purple. Cleopatra draped not only herself in it, but her palaces and even the sails of her boats. An unimaginable price no one today could afford.
The exact shade of this colour is not known, but the most prized hue was said to be a brackish purple one that veered towards oxblood, and one, perhaps, much like the dark robe of pinot noir that swirls in my glass. Yes, pinot noir is the king of grapes.
Today, we release our 2013 Pinot Noir. I have been waiting a long while to say this. Since the first days of the 2013 harvest when I first started to really get excited about the dark rich colour that was leaching from purple skins. We grape growers don’t get many kicks at the can. Our career is framed by so few vintages so when a summer like 2013 comes along, it is hard to suppress enthusiasm. Now, 18 months later, it is a brooding, noble wine with power and length. A pinot to lay down. I love it.
“Happy Days Are Here Again”.The tune penned by Ager and Yellen in 1930 is stuck in my head. Roosevelt and his Democratic party used it shamelessly as a campaign medley for many years, but mostly, it is remembered as a sort of theme song for the repeal of prohibition. The significance isn’t lost on me as I watch the bottles fill one by one with ruby coloured liquid. Pinot noir has not graced our cellar for some time. Not since the unusually warm spring of 2012 which woke our buds early. Too early. That April night, Mother Nature arrived with a decidedly wicked temperance bend and unleashed frost. Only barren vines remained in her wake.
At times I despised her. Hated her with every fibre of my being. I’d want to shake my fists at the sky above me and berate the unfairness and treachery of her actions. You bitch, I’d want to yell with all the strength and fury I could muster. Except, I wouldn’t. I shift uneasily. Generally, I try not to wish anyone harm. Although there have been some notable exceptions, in this case it is not some higher moral stratus in which I try to perch myself. I am not blithely turning my check. An undercurrent of unease washes over me. I smell something. An unmistakable odour. One I remember as a child when I thought a ghoul lived under my bed. Or the smell that could paralyze me while I waited for my school bus. The same bus that safely carried my neighbourhood bully towards me. Later in life, this odour came and went. The smell could linger around an office table as I waited for a job interview or while I stood in line at customs and immigration coming home from abroad. Yes, I recognize that smell. We never forget the smell of fear. I am not the superstitious type. Frankly, not even religious. Still, somehow, in these modern times, I fear her. I fear what she could do to me. What she could do to anyone. So, I do not think ill thoughts of her. No, Mother Nature is far too dangerous.
Today, I hum that tune. We have lots of bottles to fill with pinot noir. Friends have come to help us. Johnny tirelessly drives the corks into the bottle while Kate, his lovely fiancé, masters the bottle filler. With a deft hand she loads up the bottles while we all gossip and laugh. We desperately try to keep up with Kate’s speed and Johnny still finds time to photograph and capture the moment. Jens shoots me a smile. We are lucky to have friends. Lucky to have wine. Mother Nature was not vexed. Yes, happy days are here again.