The following blog post was written by Bridge Year Fellow, Sophie DuBois.
Right now, I’m diametrically opposed to the United States. Physically speaking. I’ve always, of course, been opposed in numerous reasonable and internal ways.
What I mean is that a few weeks back I sat in a plane with pink lights and crossed a continent hamburger-style. The fuchsia-washed cabin must have turned into something like a womb-simulator while I slept with my head on the fold-out tray in front of me because the next thing I know I’m a clumsy baby, learning sophistication in the stickiness of an Argentinian summer.
In another long lost blog-post, I explained my fascination with wine, tasting like a place, making something to be shared and also Kacey Musgraves. Which is sort of beside the point (Sorry Kacey, big fan. Seriously.) The when and why of my present situation won’t get any elaboration here, and exist in what I hope is at least half-clarity in the minds of those close to me. In fact, screw all the W’s. Except what. What can stay for now.
In my first hour at Zonda, I’m instructed to crunch down on a blackish seed pod. It looks like a caterpillar and tastes like molasses. In a familiar tone that tells me this is need-to-know information, the chef, who doesn’t look much older than me, explains that the starchy paste between my teeth comes from Prosopis nigra, a tree native to Argentina, which was predictably misnamed by Spanish colonists, who thought it looked like a Carob tree. At the bodega, they make a syrup from it. It looks like molasses and tastes like all the ways something can be misunderstood.
There are seldom moments where what I’m doing on the vineyard is something I knew when I opened my eyes that morning. I look for strings to tie what I have thought of as a basic set of human abilities and experiences to what is necessary for working at a vineyard and sometimes a solid knot will hold. I can make a good bouquet. I can speak to a customer in English and find a way to mime “toothpick” so you know what they are asking for. And I said I came from North California not North Carolina, see that’s a place we can both recognize.
I ask questions and the answers I receive seem to downplay the depth of the knowledge itself and the difficulty of acquiring it. Most times, the craft is attributed to a generational exchange. The father of a sommelier grew his own vines and never missed the opportunity to host a family dinner. The mother of the chef was a biologist who knows the specific details of every pool of water for 100 kilometers. It’s easy to envy but it is easier to believe in the magic of manuality. The unexplainable imprint doing leaves on a person and the invisible inheritances we receive without notice.
There is an understanding that doesn’t come from a class or a shared language but is instead made of cutting rosemary and polishing glasses. I remind myself of this, adjust my posture, and put myself at ease. Of course this ease is broken when I crack a glass, but my belief in its source remains and I’m happy in spite of my clumsiness.
Mendoza was a desert before the Huarpe people built the city’s endemic acequias, a network of above-ground irrigation canals, which run parallel to each and every street. If their presence alone wasn’t obvious, the walls of trees, who’s roots eat the accompanying sidewalks, make these waterways unignorable landmarks. Physically, the acequias made Mendoza a viable place for all sorts of greenery, including grapes, which find themselves, like me, at the center of the region’s all-important wine-industry.
The internet and various people I’ve asked disagree about the value acequias hold in today’s agriculture; however, they are an uncontested reminder of what seems to be one of those invisible inheritances here: that whatever needs to be done, can be done and whatever we want to make, even if it’s wine in a desert, can be made. That’s right, Jesus wasn’t the only one.
By the day, I am better able to understand the connection between craft and the freedom it gives us in all types of little and big ways. I am gaudily aware of my lack of technical (and presentational) abilities- seriously, I’ve broken five glasses- and I have my fair share of feelings about this too. But I am happy to be a part of a process, rather than on the receiving end of a product, for what feels like the first time in a long time.