Eight Hundred Grapes

“You hate them.”

He smiled at me, his warm smile. “I don’t hate anybody.”

Then he motioned for me to keep moving. His hands wove through the clusters effortlessly, clipping in quick succession, dropping the clusters in a bucket. I was going at half-speed, not a fast enough speed for him, not when he wanted these grapes off the vine and somewhere cooler.

“All hands on deck, or we can have this conversation later.”

“I want to have it now.”

“Then keep up,” he said.

I started moving faster, gently removing the grapes, careful of the heat coming off of them, careful not to add to it. Truthfully, my father didn’t need the help. He had five men out in the vineyard helping already. He needed to be doing something that made him seem busy, though. My father needed to be busy so there was a chance I wouldn’t notice how sad he was.

But I did notice. My father was sun-kissed and solid from spending a lifetime outside, doing work that he loved. And he was usually pretty happy doing it. His eyes and his bright smile made him seem perpetually young, Finn’s big brother as opposed to his father. So the contrast was sharp. His eyes were dark. His skin tight and gaunt. I could see how much energy it was taking him just to smile.

He shrugged. “It all fell into place,” he said. “I hadn’t sought it out, but your mother had been wanting to make a change of some kind, to not be so locked to Northern California, and Jacob came along . . .”

“Who is he?”

“Murray and Sylvie’s son,” Bobby answered.

“I was asking Dad,” I said.

“I can’t answer?” he said.

Bobby gave me a look, perplexed as to why I was so pissed off at him—as to why, in his mind, I was demonstrating the version of myself that was more like Finn as opposed to the one that was more like him. The version that Bobby had embraced, who had put herself through law school and had become a lawyer, who was marrying a stand-up guy.

“Jacob is Murray and Sylvie’s grandson,” my father corrected.

Those were names I recognized. We had heard them often when we were growing up. They were the founders of Murray Grant Wines—or, actually, Murray’s father was, but they were the ones that had taken it national—and then international. They’d put production in the millions. Their daughter, Melanie, was about ten years older than my parents, but she’d moved to New York and married a Wall Street guy when she was young. Big society wedding. Last name McCarthy, apparently. Son named Jacob.

Bobby, unfazed by all of this, kept working, pulling off clusters of grapes. He surveyed them as he dropped them into that silver bucket. The way my father had taught us, now second nature.

“Murray wanted to slow down, so Jacob moved to the Valley last year. He has taken over most of their operations, and he’s doing a good job for them. He’s smart and he’s a nice guy.”

“I don’t doubt that,” I said. I doubted it very much.

“What’s your problem?” Bobby said, angry.

I ignored him. “I’m just not sure why you didn’t talk to me first, Dad, before making such a big decision.”

“It felt like the right decision to make for my family,” he said.

“And we appreciate it, Dad,” Bobby said.

I shot Bobby a dirty look.

Bobby met it with a look of his own. “What?” he said.

“How about Adler Wines, Dad?”

“How about Adler Wines?” He met my eyes, annoyed.

Adler was a small, biodynamic winery near Alexander Valley. The owners, Beth and Sasha, were friends of my parents’. They got bought out by Seville Wineries. The folks at Seville promised that they would keep production exactly as it had been. That devotion to biodynamics, to sustainable farming. At first, Adler retained the same level of quality. Its first year as a subsidiary of Seville, it had its best harvest. The grapes turned out richer and riper than usual, yielding the kind of fruit-forward, jammy wine that came from Sonoma County’s warmest harvests. But the demand that harvest created made Seville greedy. They grew the company far too fast for any type of quality control. Then they put Adler Wines in every Whole Foods in the country. All it had in common with the original was the label.

“That’s not going to happen here,” my father said.

“How do you know?”

Bobby met my eyes. “What do you mean, how does he know? He knows!”

I wanted to empty out my bucket, all over Bobby’s head.

“Jacob isn’t turning The Last Straw Vineyard into a household name,” my father said. “He wants The Last Straw as a showcase property, a model for his other wineries on sustainable practices.”

“Until he doesn’t,” I said.

“Easy,” he said.

My father didn’t like to be pushed, especially by one of his children. Even if he knew I was correct. He knew it better than I did. Which might be why he stepped back and turned the focus on me.

“Is everything okay with Ben?” he asked.

I laughed, unsure how to answer that. Was I slightly on edge because my fiancé was a liar? Maybe. But did it discount what I was saying to my father?

I looked out at the vineyard, everything my father had spent his life building. I never felt more peaceful than when I was out there with him. It wasn’t just about the grapes, the wine. It was about the land he had kept safe to make that wine. It was about the farm and the house and how proud he was of what he had built here. And it was about the people he was giving that to—the last people who would appreciate it.

And that wasn’t even touching on the most tragic part of what my father seemed to be giving away. What my parents both seemed to be giving away—each other.

“Dad, it just seems like a bad time to be making a big decision.”

My father met my eyes. It was the first acknowledgment between us about my mother and Henry.

He shook his head. “You’re out of line, kid,” he said.

My father looked angry, something he rarely was.

“Dad . . .” I said. I started to apologize, but my father was already up and moving in the direction of one of his workers.

“Keep it up over here. I’ll be right back,” he said.

But he wasn’t coming back. He was going to help them load the final grapes from their shift onto the receiving table. He was going to study those grapes to see what they had to tell him.

I watched him go, wanting to call out after him now that I knew what I wanted to say. Which was, I love you and I’m here for you. Who doesn’t start with that?

“Nice,” Bobby said, glaring. “You need to learn when to back off.”

I looked down at the bucket of grapes, angry at myself. I had pushed my father too far because I didn’t know how to push him in the way he needed pushing—toward my mother.

“Is this because he didn’t ask you if you wanted the vineyard?”

I met Bobby’s eyes, hurt that he thought I was thinking about myself as opposed to our family.

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