Darren Delmore’s new book–LUCKY COUNTRY–a rousing sophomore effort to Slave to the Vine–is a sublime testament to the agony and ecstasy of ‘casual cellar hands’–a mainstay of wine country during crush and the great unsung heroes of wine production. The glamorous visions most wineries promote of fun, laughing women in hiked skirts joyfully stomping vats of plump fruit with up-splashed glasses of product is not reality, and Lucky Country continues where Slave to the Vine left off: diagramming the highs and lows of crush-season at most wineries. Long hours, under-estimated involvement, equipment fatigue and user-error all play heavily into this first-person tale of getting grapes to barrel–and bottle–during this excruciatingly well-choreographed but ofttimes hap-hazard portion of harvest.
The gloves were on for the first book, glancing blows off Mendocino County producers and their impossible requirements of involvement, but here Darren pulls no punches, naming names left off the first page-turner, all mostly relegated to a wizening of reality and expectations. The additional twists of book 2 are the added complications of work abroad in a typical *chasing harvest* cellar-hand’s involvement in a Southern Hemisphere production effort.
Oh, and you thought just the spiders, snakes, and sharks will kill you in Australia? The crush-pad will try too. Factor in all the personalities and individual differences and you have the makings for an absolute page-turner.
Bring a savvy, mature wine-experienced laborer to a foreign country, mix in legal delays, employment regulations, immigration and drug laws and you have one-quarter of the book. Take him off the lot after hours and factor in his musical aspirations and commitments, drinking & dining adventures and sex life juggles, and you have something fit for a Netflix series. There’s a lot of great wine consumed, along with great cooking, a ton of after-hours skullduggery and a handful of hot women to be shagged during the course of a small book I intended on *just reading a few chapters* of and found myself regretting running out of pages at 3 AM.
As with the first book, strong personalities and empirical egos emerge and have to be dealt with politically throughout. From the first awkward relations to persons in authority to clingy, baggage-ridden women and throughout, the cheap skate Timmy–someone whose affinity for drinking everything and never paying for it made me guiltily re-visit my taking a mag of birth-year Chateauneuf-du-Pape to a neighboring table for a taste-trade at a birthday-dinner experience with the author some years ago–but also the kind generosity and openness displayed by some on-site and most everyone off-site in Australian wine country, Delmore paints an even picture of the McLaren, Barossa, Adelaide and Clare Valley regions. Throughout are insightful first-person glimpses of the products and terrior of each region–something most of us Americans merely know as words on a label.
Don’t get me wrong: This is not a comprehensive somm-tasting travel-guide to the various South Australian wine regions. Nothing near that academic. This is a light-hearted but instructive over-view, one which carries important regional side-notes calculatedly blended into the personal daily-life of a ‘casual’–a short-term cellar-hand hired for an ambiguous time-frame and whose daily, weekly, or permanent involvement in the winery can change at a moment’s notice. Like book one–Slave to the Vine–nothing is secure, nothing is clearly established, and respect is earned in sweat-equity and perseverance–sweating the small-stuff hard, but not letting it get under your skin.
If you have even a moderate interest in wine, belong to a wine-club, or have visited a winery and are curious to its true internal workings–the all-guts, no glory of those ultimately responsible for this beautiful liquid we enjoy coming off the vines at all hours, pumping through stubborn machines, spraying all over the floor, leaking out of barrels and gradually finding its way to the inside of a safe bottle–this book (and the first one) will be an eye-opener.
Book 2: LUCKY COUNTRY Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand