Last week I was thinking about the meals I cook for our harvest crew every year, and how I really ought to write about why we do that. Why this week? In mid-December? After all, harvest is already more than a month behind us, the harvest workers have gone home and we are all back to a much more regular schedule. It started when, on Thursday morning, I went down to the freezer and pulled out a zip lock bag filled with Coq Au Vin. The chicken stew was left over from a harvest dinner, and I knew when I stuck it in there in October, I would be grateful to have it another time.
As I warmend up the defrosted stew on Thursday evening, I thought back to the wonderful evening when we ate the original meal and the memory of it made me smile. That night was a highlight of this year’s harvest season – it was one of those wonderful nights when the company, the food and the wine all come together to make something that is much greater than the sum of it’s parts. I thought to myself, I really ought to write about those harvest meals, they’re such an important part of who we are.
And then the next day was Friday, December 14th. On the west coast the news of the horrific shooting in Newton, CT. started to come over the internet by mid-morning. Mass murder in an elementary school. The crushing sadness and anger that over took made it almost impossible to get anything else done, other than listening to the news and reading various commentaries, for at least several hours. By the time I went to pick up my own 4th grade daughter from school, I had to find a way to look beyond. It certainly helped to see my beautiful girl running toward me with a big Friday smile and her blond hair flying. The glimmer of goodness for our family was that that evening we would be celebrating Hanuakah with our children’s “emergency grandparents” – it was a comfort to settle in with people we love, and to celebrate the light around a table gleaming with candles and groaning with latkes.
But all weekend I’ve been thinking about why we do what we do. Why do we make and sell wine? Surely, we could have devoted our life’s work to something more meaningful then a drink. The world is in despair, life is hard, and seemingly getting harder. Shouldn’t we be out there trying to heal the sick, protect the children and save the world? Well, in our own way, we’re trying to do just that. Our harvest dinners are a good example.
Ten years ago when we started our winery, we pledged to feed our crew daily during the weeks of harvest. For ten or eleven months of the year, our cellar crew consists of about two and a half people (one of whom is Rob), for the month of October, and often the early part of November, that number swells to anywhere from six to twelve – it ebbs and flows through the season. The first year I would make dinner at home and then schlep it over to the winery (along with my three small children). We’d all gather around, tell a few stories of the day, and share the meal. Then I would schlep all the dirty dishes and the kids back to the house, wrangle the kids into bed and do the cleaning up.
The second year I got smarter. Instead of me doing all the schlepping, I decided to have them come to our house. After all, we are only about a dozen blocks from the winery. And so the tradition was born. Like many farming families around the world, we share our evening meal with our helpers. Every night all of the cellar workers troop in – their hands are dirty and their boots are wet. They are cold and they are hungry. We gather around for a hearty meal with lots of talking and laughing. The wine is poured and stories and jokes are told. The kids and I get regaled with the tales of the crazy cellar antics.
Several of the harvest workers come back every year, two in particular (we call them The Clowns) have been working harvest with Rob for more than 15 years. Over time they have become like part of our family, adopted uncles to our kids. Some nights include helping with math homework, or maybe a wrestling match on the living room floor. Other people have shorter tenures, some have been with us for just a few years, others come only once, and then go on to build their careers elsewhere. Every year we spend some time reminiscing (mostly fondly) about workers from previous years. People share news if they’ve stayed in touch.
Every once in a while a misfit comes along, but we all try to include them as best we can. Some weeks of the season, the group maxes out the capacity of our table. But we always make it work. My children have a book called “One Enchanted Christmas” in which a small girl’s cape magically grows to hold all of her dreams and wishes. I wish that our table could do that, and in a way I guess it does.
In this way we make a family, a village, built on jokes, stories, food and wine. And what does all of this have to do with changing the world? Well, lots. Because sharing a meal with other people – whether friends, family or strangers – is one very concrete way we can share love. And the only way things will be better is if we find a way to touch others with love. Love is the antidote to fear and isolation.
Pam Baker says
A lovely essay, Maria! Ron and I enjoyed seeing your harvest crew on their way to your house for dinner. It seems only right to warm them afer those long, messy days at the winery.
Many years ago, when I was in high school, I worked for our veterinarian. It was a livestock practice, and we were often just as stained (blood not wine) and dirty as your harvest crew, as well as tired from wrestling recalcitrant critters. The vet’s wife always fed us lunch, and two meals stand out: Friday lunch, on livestock sale day, was bologna and cheese sandwiches – American cheese, white bread, mayo. By the time we got around to eating, they tasted just as good as any high-end restaurant sandwich! Some things are just relative to the setting. But, on Thursdays, Doris, who really was a good cook, had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, homemade rolls ready for us. It truly was comfort food. She managed all that while riding herd on four kids and the bookkeeping side of the business. Sadly, she developed early-onset Alzheimers and lingered for nearly fifteen years. What I remember about her was her kitchen table and the food support she provided for us.
You’re building wonderful memories for your harvest crew, and I’ll bet they’ll never forget those evenings!
Maria Stuart says
Thanks for your kind words Pam. Maybe next I’ll write about all our wonderful customers who have become friends! Merry Christmas to you and Ron!
cathy @ Noble Pig says
Hi Maria- Beautiful post. I often catch myself wondering why we do what we do as well. It’s usually during some crazy, cold 16 hour harvest day. But in the end it really is about passion and the people we get to meetin this very unique life path we have chosen. Or maybe it chose us? Happy Holidays!
Maria Stuart says
Hi Cathy! Thanks so much. We should get together some time in the New Year for a glass of wine.Happy Holidays to you too!
Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing!
Nicely “said”, Maria. It is a good thing, that you do what you do. Beneficial to your family, friends, crew and community!
Maria Stuart says
Thank you Meg!