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Hunting the Wild Grape

By James Knight

IT'S THE END of the harvest, and I've ruined all the grapes I could afford. That's why I'm pushing through weekend crowds at a Sonoma Valley winery. I heard that they might not pick their second-crop estate zinfandel. Second crop--the green berries that ripen up after the main crops are harvested and could often be gleaned gratis--once was the home winemaker's standby. But with wine selling faster than it can be pressed, wineries are using it or else trimming it to improve the quality of the first crop.

This winery can't help me, but I get another lead and end up lost in some vineyards off of Dry Creek Road, looking for someone who knows someone who has grapes. The third time my car creeps through, there's a plume of dust in my rearview mirror, and I'm being chased down the road by a wary farmer.

It's late in the afternoon now as I drive across the county, past yellowing leaves, on a final attempt. There's an Italian family winery, with a patch of 100-year-old zinfandel, where my grandfather used to buy wine by the jug. In the tasting room, I'm given the thumbs up! I get out my plastic buckets and pocketknife and get to work.

Picking a tiny second crop is as tedious as filling up a 60-gallon barrel one snifter at a time. As the moon rises over the Valley of the Moon, the proprietor comes out to check up on me. "Just turn out the lights when you're done," he shouts across the vines.

Then, at the end of a row, I come upon a tree-sized vine that the pickers somehow missed, and it's loaded with huge clusters of soft, purple fruit, buzzed by bees.

Oh, god of wine, thou art forgiving.

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From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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