The Winemaker

Noel C. Hoffman



The Winemaker made it to the ranch that was bequeathed to him from the first pioneer to vint west of Austin. The ranch was called Hoffenbauer ranch after the surname he was birthed with. The ranch house was one-roomed, cold, adobe. The Winemaker found a sorghum broom and swept the frass from the unadorned walls and board floor. He gathered mesquite and supplied a staid fire in the adobe hearth, rounded like a bulb, and abutted against the north wall. From the bulb, a stone stem of a chimney rose and laid out a large petal of dry thatch roof. The stem carried itself out to the limitless sky and bloomed a sweet, smoke flower. A window of opaline glass hung on a wall. Green bottles packed in hay made a primitive cellar that lined the west wall. His father’s vintages pressed out into the room making it distressingly small. Barn swallows had come in. Their mud cup nests rested in silence, above the wine, in the suture of adobe and thatch.


The Winemaker found a damp and chilled Maicer Santos wandering through a grove of yucca, just above the bank of the copper patina Colorado. The Winemaker set Maicer Santos to pruning the old-growth Viognier vines throughout the hill-covered acres. Maicer Santos’ botas were worn through at the soles, leaving his corrupted feet to clot with dust. His gloves were cracked and desiccated like his hands. He called the Winemaker jefe, señor, sometimes abuelo. Golden-cheeked warblers nested with lashes of spider web in the Ashe Junipers.


Maicer Santos said hace mucho calor. The Winemaker softened, spit. He said go on, son. Maicer Santos explained that he had heard from the scholars that there was a leafhopper scare. The Winemaker asked from behind a wisp of silver hair if they were glassy-winged sharpshooters. Maicer Santos said es posible. Maicer Santos inhabited the allowance of board under the green gaze of the cellar now. During the evenings, Maicer Santos still started a fire with fallen thatch as tinder, because there was much mesquite and they both enjoyed their beans warm.


The Winemaker came upon an unclean vat, dimpled copper, a stone auger. Maicer Santos set the equipment for vinting. The Winemaker found a journal of calfskin vellum, bored at by silverfish, with directions in a familiar pencraft. He disciplined Maicer Santos on nearly everything. The Winemaker asked Maicer Santos if this was going to be a strong vintage. Maicer Santos’ puffed face showed an innocent recognition as straw colored light played on his sun-withered features from the vat of wine he was peering into. Maicer Santos carved a cane from chinquapin for the Winemaker. Maicer Santos said padre. The Winemaker had green eyes. Free-tailed bats emerged at dusk and flitted in front of hopeful orange and indigo. The Colorado River grew.


Maicer Santos found a rogue hound and the hound began sleeping in the ranch house on the floor with him. The Winemaker grew cold, whispered. Maicer Santos laid the hound down beside the Winemaker at night. Maicer Santos travelled far for mesquite. He travelled far to see the scholars. He made a bed frame of cedar, lined it with hay from the cellar and thatch from the roof and laid the Winemaker down. The Winemaker, white lipped, said I need Pap’s wine, son. Maicer Santos walked to the cellar wall, said sí. He carried many bottles to The Winemaker’s bed. The Winemaker whispered son, is there news from the scholars? Maicer Santos explained that they would have to wait to see if the leaves turned yellow early and that the glassy-winged sharpshooter was a vector for the disease. Empty, pale emerald bottles collected around the bed. Maggots appeared and lapped at the dregs. Maicer Santos said hace frío.


Maicer Santos ate scavenged mesquite seedpods. He pruned in the vineyard’s rows. Maicer Santos, on a hill above everything, on a dew replete morning, came across a leafhopper. The Winemaker imbibed well into some of the earliest vintages. He bled from his nose and mouth. The Viognier leaves came in yellowed. Maicer Santos said it was starting to leafhopper rain. The Winemaker drank, swayed in fever, screeched in his sleep. The stars told their fortunes through the growing breaches in the roof.


Maicer Santos explained that many more sharpshooters would be coming soon. The Winemaker lost his left eye to decay. Maicer Santos explained that the scholars noted disease. The Winemaker cried and cried out to Mary. The hound had a litter of rats that fed fiercely on the maggots. Maicer Santos carved a head stone that read HOFFENBAUER and made work of a hole. He heard the prickly rattle of death. The nightjars swooped. Maicer Santos heard the drone in the warmth of the nights.


Maicer Santos whispered to the hound that los insectos estan aquí. The hound took mange and wandered to a senseless row amongst the vines and lapped at their dryness in search of a tonic, and then laid its smeary belly on the torrid earth and died. The swarm came and covered the stone ranch house in a trembling brown and yellow. Spittle foam covered the adobe and sealed Maicer Santos in. Maicer Santos found dust-covered bottles of the very first vintage, hidden in the crumbling east wall. The vectors outside billowed.


Maicer Santos escaped when the white foam froze and cracked. He kicked at a rift at the door. He crawled. Maicer Santos drowned while trying to cross the Colorado to make it back to Piedras Negras. Maicer Santos died while praying to Saint Christopher.

Noel C. Hoffman is a Canadian raised in Alabama. He is a fiction editor with Kudzu House Quarterly, works with Gigantic Magazine out of Brooklyn, and cofounded and coedits the online literary community