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09.03.2007

Labor Day for Wine Lovers

vineyard_worker.jpgHere in the United States we are celebrating our national holiday known as Labor Day. On the first Monday of September since 1882, we have reserved a day to laud and celebrate the toils of the common working man and woman.

In the absence of a holiday celebrating wine itself, I cannot think of a better holiday for wine lovers to observe, given the pleasures we reap from countless hours of back-breaking work by mostly nameless, faceless workers. Indeed, even as I write this, vineyards throughout the world are swarming with immigrant laborers, each nimble form carrying a plastic box weighing up to 40 pounds when it is finally filled with grapes. These folks have been awake since early this morning, and they will continue through the heat of the day, box after box, row after row.

Every physical product we enjoy in our societies is a product of some human labor, somewhere in the world. Yet for many modern products we are so far removed from the sweat and swearing that go into their making, they might as well have been created through magic. This is one of the gifts and one of the curses of "modern" society, and it is so pervasive that increasingly, those of us who have the means tend to seek out products that bring us closer to the raw materials and the effort behind their creation.

Wine is certainly one of these products for some people, for its ability to capture in a bottle a seasons worth of weather and a nearly timeless sense of dirt, and rocks, and water.

Just as wine is celebrated for the immediacy of its link to, and taste of, a place and time, so too must wine be celebrated for being so blatant a product of human toil. For anyone who has even observed a harvest, let alone tried their hand at working one, that winemaking requires an incredible amount of human effort is undeniable. First and foremost to make wine you need a shitload of grapes. Of course, the industry tends to measure things in slightly more precise terms, such as metric tons, but the most honest measure by far are the number of times a bandana wearing man from El Salvador runs back and forth across a dusty vineyard carrying forty pounds of grapes to a truck. Or the number of miles that man will walk in the course of one harvest. Or the sheer number of hours in a row that man will work for $12 to 15 per hour (if he's lucky) between now and November. The numbers would both amaze and scare you.

The irony of Labor Day falling during the harvest means that all over the country, or at least here in Northern California, is that hundreds of the people who might ordinarily most deserve to take the proscribed day off to celebrate their own labors are instead hard at work making wine for you and me.

So when you open that bottle tonight, don't forget that were it not for the incredible effort of sometimes hundreds of people, you might not be drinking that wine at all. Wine is the ultimate celebration of labor.

And if you care to celebrate in a REAL way, consider a donation to organizations like Sonoma Vineyard Worker Services or whatever your local version of this worthy group might be. Readers, feel free to suggest others that you might know of.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud