Issue #29 August, 2021
On the fourth day of this month in 1901, the world of music was given a wonderful gift; a boy named Louis Daniel Armstrong who would one day master the cornet, then the trumpet and become one of the most influential figures in jazz.
Recently I was listening to one of his songs, accompanied by a lively Pinot Noir, when I thought perhaps this month’s wine pics could punctuate a short story (very short, don’t worry) inspired by ‘Satchmo’. (That was one of Armstrong’s nicknames). Just a little fun, mid-summer reading.
And because the beautiful days of August are fleeting, I think we should take the cellar outside this month. So, grab a hammock, or something mushy to sink into while I bring you some wine and ‘Notes of Berries and Satchmo’, a summer wine fantasy.
Welcome back to the cellar.
Notes of Berries and Satchmo
“The first time I heard it, I didn’t really hear it. I just thought it was the breeze blowing through the vines that morning or some animals talking back and forth somewhere down in the valley. Then I heard it, but I ignored it. Actually, I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. It was unmistakable.
My name is Horn. Jacob Horn. For just five years I’ve been a wine maker. I can actually say it now that I’ve had some years working the vines, that is, lying awake praying to the weather gods. We’ve had five harvests of Pinot Noir grapes and five years turning them into wine with my name on it. HornHill Vineyard.
The vines and my little winery are on a hill overlooking the south shore of Skaha Lake in the small community of Okanagan Falls in the Okanagan Valley. The vines have been here a lot longer than I have but they were left untended for a time by the previous owners of this little parcel of paradise.
I had studied viniculture in Niagara. That was after years of envisioning myself as a serious musician. In Niagara, a new dream occupied my thoughts; the dream of owning a winery one day. When I discovered this ignored property was for sale, I did what any naive dreamer would do. I jumped in up to my eyebrows.
That was seven years ago. It took a couple of years getting the operation in order and since then it’s been all about the grapes; those temperamental, difficult, finicky but absolutely beautiful grapes. Until about two weeks ago.
Dürnberg Cool Grüner Veltliner 2020
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#: 464537
You might want to pour yourself a glass of this crisp and dry, aromatic Austrian white, (a tasty alternative to Sauvignon Blanc) while I tell you what happened.
It was a Tuesday, early one August morning. That time of year, I’m practically living in the vineyard. I was pruning leaves to let more light get at the ripening grapes. It didn’t register as a sound at first. But like someone was ever-so-slightly turning up the volume on an invisible sound system, I soon heard the golden soft and brassy tones of a beautifully played trumpet dancing and drifting through the vines. The notes seemed like they were off in the distance but at the same time, they hung there in the cool morning air right beside me.
It was disconcerting but put me totally at ease. The dreamy melody just seemed to float there around me. And then, the trumpet faded as gradually as it had arrived.
Over a coffee, back in my little office behind the equipment barn, the sounds of that trumpet kept playing over in my mind. Like it was prodding me. Now, I couldn’t not hear it.
I loved the movie ‘Field of Dreams’. Was the same thing happening to me, that happened to Ray Kinsella? That was fiction but this was real. Or was I having some kind of wine-maker’s breakdown? No. I heard what I heard; a trumpet being played masterfully.
Later in the morning, I went back out to that very same place in the vineyard. My boots crunched into the clay-based soil as I was walked between the vines of ripening Pinot Noir. As at dawn, there was nothing, then…….the notes of the horn drifted across the valley to me. It trumpeted in time with my footsteps. But when I stopped in my tracks, it kept playing the same melody line that I had heard earlier. Peaceful, relaxing and magical. I was mesmerized. Then it drifted off on the wind as though it had somewhere else to go.
Even though the mysterious music in the vineyard was hauntingly beautiful, it had taken me back to that earlier time in my life that I mentioned. As a boy, I had picked up the trumpet. Through my teens I began to believe and dream that one day I would be a great player, like the great Louis Armstrong. I worked at it, harder than anything else. It became an obsession. But after years of study and practice I came to the realization that I probably didn’t have the gift of greatness. So, I put down my trumpet and sadly never picked it up again.
Before I tell you the rest of my story, even though I love Pinot Noir, you might want to try this nice Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Very smooth and elegant.
Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Grande Réserve 2016
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#: 15455
As I was saying, I put my trumpet down. Actually, I threw it down; out of sight and out of mind and moved on with my life.
I stayed away from the vineyard for the rest of that day trying to make sense of the music that came to me that morning. But I kept hearing the melodic sounds of the horn. As I said earlier, I couldn’t not hear it. And the more I did, the more I thought it was trying to tell me something. But what?
Just after supper that night, I was looking at my harvest schedule. The calendar reminded me of the date that day. It was August 4th. I stared in awe. August 4 was Louis Armstrong’s birthday.
As if pulled by some unknown force, I went into the garage beside the fermentation tanks and grape crushers, to a stack of unpacked, bulging moving boxes. Many times, I’ve called them the ‘litter of my life’. Not knowing what else to do with the stuff, I had stashed them out of the way, seven years ago when I moved to the Okanagan.
I lifted it out of the box. It was dusty and tarnished and still showed the dent on the side of the bell (that’s the wide end of the horn) from when I threw it against a wall. But I found myself handling it carefully. I cradled it and carried it back to the wide veranda overlooking the vineyards. And suddenly I knew what the music was telling me.
As I looked out at the ripening Pinot Noir, with the evening light once again painting the vines gold. I lovingly dusted off my old trumpet, after so many years of despising the failed dream of what it represented. I realized I still loved the sound of that instrument and I could get joy from playing it once again.
A lock had been opened.
And looking out at my grapes above Skaha Lake and the Okanagan Valley,
I said to myself, oh what a wonderful world.”
Well, that may have been a bit weird. But as they say, it was a story that had to be told. I hope you enjoyed it. Next month I promise we’ll dive more seriously back into wine.
Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.
PS My fictional story by no means suggests that I am ignoring the devastating conditions currently being experienced in British Columbia’s interior and particularly the Okanagan. If anything, it is a memory of earlier times and the hope for a better future for our environment.
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