One of the reasons I prefer local wine to anything else is that I like drinking a year I also lived. This might not be a significant fact for the average drinker, but for a farmer who may have suffered that dry spell with twice the workload of making it rain, drinking the ’95 merlot is like having a gem cut from a rock. You can toast the year and reminisce its hurdles; it becomes a notch in your belt, not a lower-back problem, as you polish off another bottle.
No one really expected 2010 would turn out so dry. After the previous year and eight inches of rain in early spring, many were geared up for fungal diseases, but instead they hauled irrigation pipe. I dragged it through the spring broccoli, and it appears I’ll be dragging it into the fall. As summer peaked with heat and high yields, tomatoes two weeks early and cucumbers by the endless bushel, trying to keep up with the deluge of everything but the sky was exhausting and precarious. My frustration, however, was often allayed by my husband’s cautiously repressed elation. He’s going to make wine with this summer and I am already thirsty for the memory.
I like to keep a calendar record of what I accomplish every day: what is planted in the greenhouse, what is put in the field. I sometimes include weather observations and soil conditions. It’s a reference for the ongoing season as it helps me chart multiple plantings and approximate harvest. I’ll also look at it next year, as I note what did well and what did not. However and unfortunately, this calendar never includes the whole season. At some point I become too busy to take notes. If I had to I could reconstruct the season from the laundry. It’s not dirty, it’s just unsorted, like historic strata to prove I went straight from sweaters to shorts, and from the stained T-shirts lying near the meniscus of clothes flowing over the basket; I know I stopped picking zucchini—it was in a field I couldn’t irrigate—by late July. This memory is secure.
I have never been a beer drinker. I never liked the taste. But now I just think I never experienced the perfect ratio between temperature and work. I have a friend who comes to visit during tomato season every year. She usually stays one week; her goal is to eat tomatoes, swim in the ocean and help me pick, sort, clean and sell the fruit. Because she is on vacation, she also drinks beer while she works. This seemed especially fair since some of our workdays exceeded 12 hours, and it was almost always near 90 degrees. The tomatoes were fragile, soft, thin-skinned and full of flavor. They were marvelous with cold beer.
Normally when I go out for an afternoon picking I know I will be there until nightfall and my drink of choice is coffee, even if it’s just a partial cup from the morning. My hope is that there is in it a magic elixir, besides drowned yellow jackets, to keep me going. The day before Lawrie left, we took a bucket filled with ice and beer to the field with us. It was an unguarded decision to make work like play. Beer is one thing for its taste, but its buzz, like the near escape of a runner’s high, is to keep you doing what you’re doing. And we were soon aware as we tasted and drank our way down each row that we worked in the pinnacle, the moment at which the tomatoes were truly at their very best. We left a few empties, bottles that were quickly concealed by the indeterminate vines.
I find the bottles at the end of September when the Green Zebras have almost finished fruiting and the plants have begun to recede. Again visible are the cages and stakes and string apparatus that supported this memorable harvest, and then, an empty green beer bottle glinting gold in the sun. I’ll pick it up, but not now. I don’t yet want the association to end.
Marilee Foster farms and writes from Sagaponack.