Our relationship has always been a delicate one. You have been there when I needed you and have offered me insight and support when everything around me was in pandemonium.
But it has also been a hazardous relationship.
You have always been around. Gathering dust in a draw for 9 months of the year only to be yanked out and used by a novice but you see past my fumbling moments when I have been dense. Because that’s what you do. You take density and calibrate the sweetness.
We saw each other every day. Twice a day. For three months. Every morning I would walk into the cool cellar still sleepy and tired from the labour of harvest the day before and there you would be – waiting for me in the lab, ready to be plunged into 30 samples of cold white fermenting must. Then again at the end of day – covered in a mess of sugar and yeast I would return to you and we would complete our bi-daily ritual.
It’s not you – it’s me. I was too young. I didn’t have years of experience. Our interaction was still one of bustling activity and commotion. Everything was going at full speed. I did not give you the gentle nurturing care of an experienced winemaker living their glory years in the cellar.
And that is how I broke you.
The first time it happened I was so scared. I did not mean to break you so brutally. I was worried. What would people say? How would we survive without your utility and convenience? I did not realise the fragile state in which you existed. I promptly promised never again to break you and I intended to fulfil that promise.
But then it happened again. This time it happened by dropping you from the stainless steel stairs.
It was so quick. We seemed fine but then I turned my back and you rolled away from me. I only heard the soft tinkle as you shattered on the dark orange tiles near the robust red wine tanks.
The third, fourth and fifth time became a blur. I could not say how or when it happened. Only that it did. Each time the clean-up became swifter; gathering glass in tissue paper; rinsing the floor or any discarded shards apparent of your destroyed state… and finally the hasty disposal of any evidence which could be incriminating.
You are a luxury I cannot afford. I am a student living off a measly intern salary. My idea of a luxurious date night involves going to Spur on a day when the two for one special isn’t on. So, I can’t afford your R500 aesthetic upkeep. No matter how pretty you come in your new packaging and the beautiful slip of calibration paper that accompanies you.
The cellar has always been the hub of chaos and dishevelment. To be honest I don’t know how managed to survive through the mayhem of previous harvests. You are far too delicate to survive in this robust environment. It’s a tough world and your lack of tough exterior is the fatal flaw in your design.
But I know why we keep you around. You offer a valuable service by tracking the rate of our tricky friend, fermentation. There is no better tool to measure density and we would be lost without your guidance. Without you we have no way of knowing when to add our nutrients. When to adjust temperatures. When to rack. You are the decision-maker and because of that you are irreplaceable.
So I ask you. Why are you designed this way? Why are you made of flimsy glass and filled with mercury? I have heard it is the only way you work. Archimedes first uncovered the secret to your success when he stated his buoyancy principle. Thomas Thomson knew what he was doing when he designed the shape and material of your frame. Winemakers celebrated when they realised the impact of your function. Your way of determining specific gravity is nothing short of remarkable.
You have been there for tiring times and I am indebted to you – as is every other cellar worker, intern, winemaker and cellar master. But our relationship cannot survive. You deserve someone who will treat you better and I need someone who will not break so easily.
I have been told that I am the weak link in our partnership; my mentor has only broken you once in 17 years. Maybe one day I will be able to treat you with the respect you deserve – fulfilling your purpose in life. And I will be happy knowing you have done your job so that I may do mine.
The intern who broke you