Thursday, July 29, 2010

Senator DoGood and Foreign Vegetables

First, thank you to everyone who sent email congratulating me on my first blog. And, I'm not sure what to say to the client who reminded me that, in fact, I AM being paid to be one of those "vineyard consultants" I slammed. (of course I know exactly what to say, but its not nice) Apparently, I'm a pain in the butt just like the rest of them. Oh, well.

On to today's rant.....

A piece of legislation drafted by a well-meaning politico was recently vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger (ok, rule #1 - all politicians should have a name that 3 out of 4 people can spell). The bill proposed farm labor be paid time-and-a-half for work over 8 hours. Sounds like the right thing to do, but because farming is seasonal and we don't employ labor all year round, laborers tend to grab all the hours we give them when we can, even if it makes for a long day. Like everyone else, they have bills to pay. They've figured out the math equation obvious to everyone except politicians:

Work = money

Now, I'm not dumb. I'm not going to take sides on this issue, especially here in my blog. I've seen how people (who have nothing else to do) spend all day commenting on blogs that are controversial. But it does make me wonder how (stupid) bills get created. Let's take, for example, the Senator who drafted this bill. I imagine Senator DoGood (name changed to protect his identity and keep his gigantic legal team away from my assets) sits around the breakfast table with his wife chatting, usually about ideas that spend my hard-earned money or increase taxes. In this case, Senator DoGood's parents and grandparents apparently picked roses and vegetables in the San Joaquin Valley so he felt it was his duty to change the state law exempting farm laborers from being paid overtime. I don't want to slam Senator DoGood for doing something he felt was right, but I do want to ask him a question....

Senator DoGood - what's the chance you or your family shop for veggies at the grocery store? Pretty good, I'd say. California law requires grocery stores to post where fruit and vegetables come from, and as a (grumpy) farmer, I notice how much of what we eat comes from somewhere else. Eggplant? $4.49/lb at Safeway this week from Mexico. Hell, even Whole Foods - you know, that place where "eat local" is painted on the front entrance - has mandarin oranges from Australia. Get the idea? So, I'm just wondering if there might be a little hypocrisy going on here. It looks as though there's a damned good chance Senator DoGood regularly eats vegetables grown in countries where farm laborers are paid even less and work conditions are worse. Bad boy, Senator DoGood!

So, it also makes me wonder - if Senator DoGood wants to increase the cost of farming, does that mean he wants the price of U.S. grown vegetables to be so high we can only afford to eat food from China? Or maybe he actually likes the flavor of melon picked unripe, packed in a crate, and shipped on a large boat. Does his logic go something like this.... "Oh well, if we can't afford to grow our own food, at least we can still afford to buy vegetables from Mexico. It would save money on that huge healthcare bill we just passed - I hear the water there is an effective laxative".

All kidding aside, I'm happy to see the bill got vetoed. It was more likely to hurt the people it intended to help. Farmers would have hired more workers rather than pay overtime because no one can afford to raise the price of their products these days. Last time I checked email (which I don't do often because its full of messages offering to enhance my body parts), none of my clients said, "Geez, Jim. Can you charge us more to farm our vineyard this year?"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Andy Rooney, Vineyard Consultants, and Other Musings....

If you asked me 6 months ago whether I'd ever consider writing a blog, I would have said, "the dumbest word ever invented is the word 'blog', whatever that means". But a friend suggested it not too long ago and said I could be the Andy Rooney of the wine blogging world. Andy Rooney is wrinkled and almost dead so I'm still not sure it was a compliment but after considering it, decided it wouldn't be such a bad idea. In fact, it might be therapeutic in a weird way. Instead of grumbling to myself under my breath, I can share it with the world.

For those of you who want to follow my blog, a word of warning: I won't be doing this all the time because I have stuff to do. If you wake up to check my blog every morning, I have some advice - get a job. But if you want to know what its like to grow grapes in one of the world's greatest wine growing regions, check in with me every once in awhile.

One of the most thankless jobs, next to garbage man (or should I say "trash collector") is a farmer. Even Rodney Dangerfield got more respect and no doubt made a hell of a lot more money being disrespected. I'm a grape farmer, have been for over 30 years, and am damned proud to say it. As far as wine production goes, I'm an important cog in the wheel, but of course, not the most important cog - just ask any winemaker.

Sure, I've been doing it a long time and I've seen lots of crazes come and go: trellising systems no one ever uses anymore, plant material no one uses any more - all designed to supposedly revolutionize grape growing. Hell, row orientations are now precisely 35 degrees East of North or should I just follow the Yellow Brick Road? But the fad I don't get now is the need to hire a vineyard consultant - someone to hold hands with and sing "Kumbaya" as you walk through the vineyard.

Before I rant, let me say not all are bad. I even have some I use on a regular basis. But why do some winemakers feel the need to hire one? Consultants are a pain in the butt and they get in the way - no let me change that - they get in MY way. They come armed with reams of paper loaded with scientific studies crammed with thousands of statistics. One will tell you to water less. Another tells you to water more. Yet another says if you pick off a certain leaf, its guaranteed the grapes won't have any green flavor (huh?). Few of them seem to have spent even one day farming. How does that work??? I complain to my winemaker buddies about this all the time, but it seems they want proof that consultants do, in fact, get in the way. So I discovered the diagram below on the Internet (well, ok I made it up on my laptop) that shows scientifically how the "getting in the way" thing happens:

I also found a correlation (that's a science word) between my number of meetings with vineyard consultants, my blood pressure, and how many glasses of wine I have at night. I offer it as further evidence:

What ever happened to good, old-fashioned farming? Learn the land, learn the vines, love the results. Its worked for me for over 30 years.

Stay tuned - someone just told me tomorrow is a "flower day" on the biodynamic calendar and I feel a rant coming on.