I am a grape berry. I live in a bunch with my family and we have neighbours in our row. The many rows make blocks, the blocks a vineyardhood, the vineyardhoods a village, the villages communes… you get the idea. I live for about 150 days. As a young grape, I am sour and angry. As a mature grape, I am sweet and succulent. After those 150, I change form and am reborn as wine that can live up to 150 years. I can offer many experiences to many different people. As wine, I can deliver both tremendous rewards and equal disappointment, but only in concert with members of my vineyardhood or greater geographic, for a single berry does not a bottle make. It is said that after our conversion we can be the cause for altered sensory and physical states in persons, and that this ability is both good and bad.
But I want to get back to my vineyardhood. It lies low on the side of a volcanic mountain and bakes in the daytime sun while the evenings bring cooler air. In the distance I can see the sea, whose breezes further cool and dry us. I have heard that we have a smaller population than the vineyardhoods at the bottom of the mountain, as food is scarce and the terrain tougher here. I have also heard that we are tougher due to our tough mountain life.
Some vineyardhoods can be plagued with disease, and a literal thick skin goes some way toward protecting us. They say that one year, the bunch that used to occupy our spot lost individual family members and saw entire rows eliminated by sickness. Most years, the pestilence never makes it to us, while other times it is treated swiftly with medicine. Other tragedies can befall our kind, such as consumption by immoderate winged and hooved creatures, skin-splitting hail attacks, or unusually extreme temperatures.
Long ago, our local authority would remove entire families and drop them to the ground to rot into the soil. Though it scared me to hear these stories, I was told that it was necessary for the previous generations to become strong and capable of full, long lives. And though we debated evolving a right to bear arms to protect ourselves, we decided that we preferred a right to bear fruit. Today, the authority comes once in a while and removes individual family members from bunches. Why, only last week one of my brothers was taken and, right before our eyes, popped into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. This sacrifice is a tremendous honour, for these berries help foretell our own fate. Today, our home is old, thick, and gnarled, and only three or four other families share it with us.
We can be famous, sought-after and expensive or poured into a pot and released as fumes and reduced to, well, a reduction. We can be converted to brandy where our fate is little different than that of wine. However, the limit of our lifespan approaches infinity as brandy, barring any unforeseen (or rather, foreseen) circumstances.
The lore goes that if we survive and reach conversion, we are mixed with many other berries where we may swim for weeks. It sounds very exciting, and I am told that most berries from our vineyardhood are blended with the berries of another a short way away. I have heard that those berries have different skin, sweetness, and a variation on our language. I have further heard that despite the risks during the conversion process, we become better when mixed with those others. Apparently, we become capable of more diverse expression and longevity. It’s like finding true love in a community, where the result is a longer life, stronger constitution—overall better versions of ourselves.
I am Aglianico. Pleased to meet you. My dream: to find a cute little Piedirosso while swimming in a vat of other Aglianico and Piedirosso. We will unify our juices and souls through the dangerous and elaborate conversion rituals. If we survive, we will settle, temporarily, in a nice wood barrel for a couple of years before finding a little glass house to share with other couples. I know these times come with strife, but it is that very strife that makes us better.
Finally, after another number of years to enjoy our lives together and find our perfect place of peace, I pray that an eager and deserving person-couple share us, and introduce us, however briefly, to a piece of slow-roasted, medium rare, cloven-hoofed creature’s flesh before plunging headlong into the great bloodstream in the, uh, sky? No one knows where we go after that. Some say we are reborn yet again and sent via whirlpool to the gloomy depths below the streets. Others say we evaporate through the pores and ethereal breath of persons.