Michael DeCapria is one of those Renaissance men who seem to have accomplished a bit of everything in life. I met Michael in Kirkwood’s Viticulture class last year, where I don’t think he missed a day in the entire eight months of the course and was, above all, always entertaining. Michael is teaching Wine, Beer and Spirits at Kirkwood now, and testing to become a certified Sommelier – an expert in wine, beer, spirits and cigars. Turns out, he’s an expert writer, as well. He is working on a longer story and offered this for readers to sample his work. Let Michael know what you think in the comments section, below, and hopefully, we’ll read more from him in the future.

A Winemaker’s Tale

By Michael DeCapria

Catawba grapes/Cindy Hadish

Catawba grapes/Cindy Hadish

I tend the fields alone now. I walked the rows with my heart’s greatest joy at my side once, but now they are mine to trod alone. My hands touch the clusters but reveal less than hers did performing the same task. I just don’t have her loving touch. That was then and now I walk the rows isolated from her embrace. We brought this hybrid to light and raised them until they produced the sweetest most succulent fruit of their type. The perfect grapes for the region, matched perfectly to the Terrior. A labor of love for us both and today I get to taste the vintage that we dreamed together.

Four years ago my wife, Margie, walked into these very rows and lay herself down, never to rise again. The medical examiner said her blood tests held so many trace amounts of so many drugs that any combination of several of them could have ultimately slowed her heart until it stopped. The chemotherapy was continuing after three surgeries finally slowed the growth of the cancer that infected her perfect bosom. Then again, that perfection was a vault for the cancer to hide within. Locked away until the time it could steal the most joyous of times from us. We joined our minds to produce the grapes that stand in rows before me now and our bodies to give us our daughter, Felice.

Felice was born on a beautiful autumn morning in October. A harvest princess born to those who pledged themselves to work for earth’s bounty, a smile from above to those who would pass along their love to her. She was with us for a week when Margie became distressed that she wasn’t expressing properly when it came feeding time. We sought a nurse at the hospital’s “Lactation Station” for help. She examined and coached Margie as she followed the instruction with Felice in her arms. Becky was the nurse helping us and she was also the nurse who assisted on the birth in this small community hospital. Becky left the room with a look of concern telling us she wanted to get one of the doctors to take a look at something for her.

She returned with a small man who introduced himself as Dr. Rubio and asked if he could take my wife into an examination room nearby for a few moments. “I’ll take a look at you and see if we can find the duct that might be blocked so this little girl can get a good meal in her.” He gently took Felice from Margie and gave her to me then led Margie into a connecting room with a gentlemanly manner that made me like him immediately. They were in there for a good amount of time that passed quickly for me as I held and stared at the marvel in my arms. She was flawless so much like her mother in so many ways. She would cuddle closer to me each time I took her while she slept, just as her mother does when I slip into bed after her in the depth of night.

The door opens and the nurse returns to tell me that they took Margie to another examination room for a mammogram. She assured me that it was just precautionary but I could tell she was concerned. These people had become close to us during the pregnancy as we had our childbirth classes in a room just down the hall with many of the people who were in house the day Felice was born. While I watched them clean her in the nursery from behind the plate glass many of them stepped beside me and congratulated me and wished us the best with our new family member. I sometimes feel that they were the first to feel the tragedy that was about to unfold.

That day she saw a total of six doctors. The mammogram had found a spot on each breast and they were now scheduling a biopsy as soon as they could arrange. Margie died amongst the rows a year later. Felice had just the week before celebrated her 1st birthday by falling asleep into the cake we made for her. Margie needed to be carried back to bed as she had a bad reaction to some more aggressive drug therapy given her earlier in the day. I cleaned Felice and set her in her crib where she snuggled close to the cinnamon colored bunny Margie had bought her at one of those places where you get to make your own bear. I remember watching her standing with her headscarf and her eyes closed tightly as she made a secret wish on the heart to be placed inside the bunny. Felice was sleeping in her stroller. I was trying to fight back the tears when the girl stitching up the new bunny lost it. The only one not crying was Margie who just started laughing and told us we needed to get over it.

Five weeks later I would wake and look around the house for my wife. It was just after dawn and Felice was still angelic in her slumber. I walked out the back door that led to a small yard that was bordered on the north by the south fields. The sun was spreading orange on the east horizon and the wind was blowing an autumn chill across the field. I shivered wearing some SpongeBob pajama pants without a shirt. I walked to the rows and started looking between each as I walked across them. I saw the white of her silken nightgown where I stand now. I walked to her wondering why she would lay down here. My heart quickened with each step until I reached her. She lay on her side with her arms touching the ground to the side of her head. Her posture was relaxed for the first time since the treatments had begun. I had watched her sleep for the past nine months while I finished the reports on the desk at the side of our bed. She tossed and turned and moaned and ground her teeth throughout the night.

Her legs were crossed, scissoring at the knee. Her chest covered by her near arm over the area where her breasts had been. A smirking type of smile on her face made me think she would pop up and say, “Boo!” any moment now. She didn’t say anything. I knelt and reached for her shoulder and found it cold to the touch. In that one instant all doubt was removed and I was lost among the rows I had designed myself. I sat beside her for half an hour before the breathing sound in the baby monitor sitting a few feet away started to change to a waking cry with which I had become so familiar. I rose and returned to the house. Walking through the kitchen I grabbed the house phone and dialed 911 as I reached my daughter’s room I told the operator my wife had died in the night and needed someone to help me. I changed the baby and warmed a morning bottle while she cooed at me and played with my beard.

We walked into the rows while I fed Felice. I stopped ten feet away from Margie. Felice stared at her mommy from around the bottle. Soon I heard a car pulling into the driveway. It was the Sheriff’s son David. He made his way into the rows seeing me standing not far away from the back patio. He was quiet as he approached only his radio making any noise. They were talking about dispatching an ambulance to an address that sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t place at the moment. Felice detached herself from the bottle and pointed at Margie. “Mommy nigh’ night?” she asked.

“Mommy nigh’ night.” I replied. David’s hand closed on my shoulder as we stood there. Felice noticed him and smiled. David smiled back trying to hide his tears. Mine came then. I didn’t sob or breakdown dramatically. My eyes just opened up and flowed down my face, down my chest and dripping into the ground below me. The ambulance was coming now. It had killed its siren as it reached the gravel road leading to our house, but still drove faster than most did down our street. David turned me and led me back to the house.

Felice said, “Mommy bye bye.” And waved a little hand over my shoulder as we walked. The rest of the day I only remember taking care of the baby while my friends called people and made arrangements. The house was busier than we had ever had it when Margie was alive and I remember feeling hurt that we didn’t get to entertain more often as Margie loved to have parties especially when we could show off a new wine. After a while, my mother, who had hopped a plane from Florida almost as soon as she had heard, was standing at the doorway to the kitchen with David who had driven her from the small airport outside of town. I was feeding Felice in her high chair. When my mom reached me I broke down in the dramatic sobbing cry I thought would have taken me earlier in the field. Someone gave me something and it wasn’t long before I was sleeping in my bed without my wife for the first time since college.

I dreamed of my wife standing in the rows with me as the whole woman she was a year earlier. She was watching the sunrise near the spot where I had found her. She smiled at me as I approached and her beauty took my breath away. She whispered to me as I held her in the orange light of morning. She whispered the song of the seasons to me and forgave me for missing her before she was gone. She laughed softly when I became aroused by her breath on my ear and loved me in the rows with a passion born of her freedom from pain. Then she told me she loved me for all time and left me dreamless the rest of the night.

That was four years ago and I still remember the dream of our final joining. I have a bottle in my hand. It is the first vintage aged from these grapes we wrought. She had calculated maturity in five years. We had no real idea how effective the varietal was going to be as it was a recently developed one named Rubian Pearl, but other vintners had been excited with its potential around the time we put the vines in the ground. This was the fifth year removed from the fermentation chamber. The barrel aging done in early spring it was bottled soon after. Then it was time to wait. I have two glasses with me. The basket I brought with me has a loaf of rye and bran bread we used to bring out into the fields with us when we had summer pruning and thinning take our work past dinner. Like we did so long ago I tear a piece from the end of the loaf and settle in beside the basket.

The horizon is starting to lighten and show the signs of a waking day. I watch as the sun returns to this land and open the bottle. I pour after a few moments, still appreciating the dawn. Two glasses. Two hearts joined in perfect rhythm to produce the deep burgundy nectar within. It shines with the dawning day reflecting through it. On the nose it is a warm vanilla and jam fruit explosion. I take a sip and let it move throughout my mouth. I whisper to the morning, “Magic, just like she said it would be.”

I raise the other glass and pour it at my feet. This has been a ritual for the past four years. Different wines each year, all wrought from vines we put in the ground together many years ago. Each year I shed a few less tears and remember the lush flavor of my wife, healthy and hearty, before cancer took her vitality. Each year I smile more at the thought of my time with her. Each year, Felice looks a little more like the mother she only remembers from the pictures around the house. Each year I hurt a little less. There is always another pruning, budding, thinning, and harvesting to be done. That is how we have stayed together since her passing.


Michael DeCapria is a surprisingly happy guy who writes about an alarming amount of sad stuff. He is a beer and wine maker who loves to tend the fields. Most of his ideas are born in between the rows and over a pot of boiling wort.