In 2008, while giving a reading from The Battle for Wine and Love at the Healdsburg Library I noticed a weathered gentleman, long and lean, sitting next to a younger woman. He was intense and interested, that is until we entered the Q&A portion and someone asked me what was my next project. At first I said, I didn't know, ah the curse of the freelancer, I don't know, I don't know, but then I remembered a book I was working on, a job, one of those work-for-hire things, Living With Wine. This was a design book on high end wine cellars, so I mentioned it. The man got up in disgust and left.
I felt unfairly judged and upset. I wanted to run after him, "Wait!" and explaine. But at the podium, I couldn't. The way the woman who remained, his daughter, Greta talked about her father later on in the evening further hooked me, and I knew I wanted to one day meet that man.
(From Naked Wine, chapter 1) The woman whose elderly companion had left waved her hand. She had been looking at me in such a hard, judging way that I took a deep breath in preparation when I called on her. But instead, she talked about the man who had just left the room, her father. Her family owned vineyards, and he sometimes made wine. “Some years it’s transcendent and others less so, but because I love my father, his wine is always my favorite. And with chemistry, we lose the emotion in the wine, and that’s criminal.”
A few weeks ago the winemaker Kevin Hamel told me he was sending me a book, a collection of essays written by the man "you encountered in your first Healdsburg book event."
Put out in 2011 by Cameron & Co just a few months after his death, this is a beautifully published collection of Mesics' terse, quietly emoted and bluntly observed essays as originally printed in the local Healdsburg paper under the pseudonym of. F. Gangbardt. Mesics, born in New Jersey, had been a Marine. It was an aviator’s term.
Ex-Marine or not, this man who migrated west in his fifties to farm grapes wrote with the minimalism of Hemingway, barb of Thurber and the undercurrent of Albee. At times he surrenders to the guarded sentiment of a tough yet shy man, asking a girl for a dance. Without falling tosentimenal romanticism, he still shows his true cards in the piece entitled, Vineyard Aphrodisiac Perfume. There he spins a short story on the elusivity of grape in bloom.
You both run toward the vineyard, sniffing for a clue. You are smelling thousands of tiny flowers on vines that quite recently were pruned brown sticks with dusty buds hidding on them. +++
Their aroma is not as strong as a gardenia or lily of the valley. Its fragrance is as light as a breeze, and to really experience it there must be no breeze to carry it away.
He plays with the cliché, light as a breeze, and then rectifies it immediately. With the passion of someone who's neck was always sunburnt for the days out pruning, he just as deftly delivers blows to the diletante CEO, who just bought a winery or vineyard, particulary in one entitled, El Patron.
While deciding what to do with those retirement bucks you experiece and ephiphany that becomes a vision. You imagine yourself on a tractor (US made), cods of rich black earth chirning neatly henind you down rows of well -groomed wine grapes. It can't be that difficult. Hands-on. Get those fingernails dirty, allow your hair to grow longer, learn how to fix things.
Forget the bib overalls and pitchfork image, just sport a mellow countrified look that says, "I'm slowing down, but I'm still virile.
I have to resist the urge to share with you the rest. The essay is short, and the volume 62 pages slim. Go ahead, splurge. Buy the book. It is in this particular essay where I could see him slipping out of my reading. He thought he pegged me as the little dilettante who wrote about fancy, rich folk wine cellars. He crossed me off before he could find out or understand that I, as a writer, need to work, and if a work for hire comes along like that Living With Wine gig, I take it gratefully, a lifeline. Kevin had bought grapes from him, but some rich folk did as well, maybe even some he made fun of in his essay, How're The Grapes?
But, so, he and I will never have the conversation about why he walked out on me or if the way he judged me was my projection or his reality. But when I read Vit Lit, I did meet him, even if it was another one-sided conversation. And as I closed the book, I still heard Greta's words, "And with chemistry, we lose the emotion in the wine, and that’s criminal.”
The man felt deeply and it's all there in the way he opened up the book, " I never met a grapevine I didn't like." But, people? Perhaps that was more challenging.