The grape harvest party


   © Photos: Pepa de Rivera, Text: Manuel Bayo

I was washing dishes in the sink by the kitchen door and heard a sigh. When I looked up, my great-grandmother was standing in the doorway looking at me.

175 years ago, in 1846, Neptune was discovered, Allan Poe wrote his short story "The Cask of Amontillado", and Dionisio Angulo, my great-great-grandfather, bought a farm with good access from the road between Socuéllamos and Las Mesas, perfect for the vineyard. Dionisio must have been practical and organised. Organised, I think it because he kept a detailed account of each day in a diary; practical because he simplified everything into two categories, what should be written down and what didn't deserve it, just like that. Depending on how you want to see it, his diary can mix things up that should not be recorded together, such as the kilos harvested from each plot, the premature death of a child, and the purchase of a farm. But as he understood it, they were the remarkable events of his life and the timeline the most solid criterion to unite them. I know no more about Dionisio.

Esperanza, her daughter, had brothers and sons, but she no longer had her husband. She then did what was not recommended and took control of her life. She set up the winery and the house on the estate that her father had bought and planted with vines fifty years earlier. He did some things in a way that none of her sons or brothers, probably not even her father, would have known how to do: she wanted practicality to be aesthetically pleasing and surrounded the winery and the house with beautiful gardens. By the way, she probably also made it clear that aesthetics can be very practical: she made people love this estate like no other and, when years later, most of the small wineries in La Mancha were disappearing, my grandfather first and then my father lost everything, everything except this estate, its house and its winery, everything except Tinedo.

My great-grandmother Esperanza died many years ago, when my father had not yet been born, which is why I was so surprised to see her there, standing in the kitchen doorway while I did the washing up. My father had died recently, and this was the first harvest we had spent without him. My great-grandmother's sigh made me look back at the dirty dishes, at the water running from the tap, at my hands in the detergent bubbles, struggling to understand the unannounced and fleeting visit and her minimal message. For us, the grape harvest had always been a festival; as children, we mingled at times with the grape pickers, we liked to go and eat with them from their shared frying pan, in the evenings to listen to them sing and watch them dance. Perhaps my great-grandmother's sigh was one of regret at seeing me still so carefree. Mothers sometimes forget that learning is also a matter of time. That year we learned that, above and beyond the festival, the grape harvest is the crown to a year in which we put in something, the land most of it, and the weather acts as judge and sentence. The grape harvest is more than a party; it is a time to release the tension of work and the fears of the worst accumulated during a year in the fields; with the grape harvest, we celebrate having been part of the vineyard for another year. With the grape harvest, we begin the magic of transforming grapes into wine.