I used to hate this term, and thought it was a bit of an overreaction, but having lived through this season for the real first time (Greg hardly worked outside of normal hours last vintage), I understand why they call us partners by this cruel, yet accurate name.
Vintage Widow: someone who’s partner is working the wine harvest season, and essentially mourns the loss of said partner to everything grapes and winemaking for anywhere from end of February through May; the vintage widow’s needs come second to the winery’s needs at all times.
Now before you think I’m about to launch into a huge list of complaints about this, let me reassure you that I’m not. I get it. I’m in this industry too, and I understand how the weather controls so much of when the grapes can come in, and that once they’re in, they need immediate processing. I understand that it’s all hands on deck, and how it has to be a 24 hour, 7 day per week operation. Vintage is exciting and there’s a thrill to seeing a winery in full swing.
No, I’m not here to complain, yet assuming my first official “vintage widow” title came with challenges, especially during this unprecedented Vintage 2020.
First, this was one of the longest vintages New Zealand’s had in years; it started very early due to warm, sunny weather all spring and summer, and then ended with cooler nights throughout autumn that stretched the reds on for weeks. Secondly, Covid happened; world pandemic vintages are interesting, to say the least. We weren’t sure if wine production was going to be able to continue, but thankfully the government deemed it as essential, strict pandemic procedures were put in place and patrolled at all wineries, and vintage 20 rolled on.
Greg not only worked 12+ hour shifts, 6 days a week, he was Night Shift Supervisor. If he’d been on days, I would have seen him each evening. With nights, we were 2 ships passing. Thanks to Covid, and social distancing, the night shift had to remain on nights for several weeks longer than usual, to keep the 2 shifts from coming into contact with each other on site. All up, Vintage 2020 was 13 weeks of night shift for Greg.
This challenged me in several ways, the biggest at first being sleeping alone every night. I hadn’t slept for a full night alone in a decade. I was assaulted in my 20’s, and sleeping overnight was the one hurtle that I’d never jumped. Whenever Greg went out of town, I’d have friends sleep over, or go to his parents’ or mine. I was offered beds this time too, but decided it was time I finally faced that fear. My colleagues can tell you how tired I was at work for those first few weeks. I was so uncomfortable that I felt like I slept with one eye open most nights. I tossed and turned and had to fight my anxiety all night long, every night. I don’t know if I eventually just hit a point where I got so exhausted that I began passing into unconsciousness, or if I gained some peace; it was likely a mixture of both. Eventually, I started to sleep better. I learned to pray before I went to bed and trust that God would keep me safe. I listened to calming worship music that assured me I wasn’t alone. It was a huge fight. But I finally chose to fight it. It was never easy, but it did become less difficult.
Another challenge was finding something to do with all my alone time. I am an extrovert, and although I enjoy being by myself for short times, I love being with people. In New Zealand, we’ve had to re-balance our relationship and the time we spend with each other. I usually work more hours than Greg does, and he normally gets home before I do, so he has had to get used to missing me for once, while I’ve had to get used to never having any time to myself in the house. We had some arguments at first, but eventually found our groove. Then vintage hit. All of a sudden I was coming home to an empty house. I wondered what I was going to do to keep myself entertained; then I remembered that in Canada, I used to beat Greg home each day, and I had 2 months a year off work and was on my own. I had done this before and I could find things to do, like read and write, go to the gym more often, not rush out of work as fast, or catch up with girlfriends. Great! Plan sorted.
Looking back on what vintage would have been like without being mandated to isolate at home for 5 weeks in the middle seems like a dream, and before, I was dreading that! Now, how I felt about it seems laughable! Covid took me to a new level of isolation I never imagined, but I survived, and actually ended up finding some rest and enjoyment in it.
Now, about the cooking. Greg loves cooking; I don’t. He usually gets home first, hence he cooks and it works great… until he isn’t around, and I have to cook for myself! I literally hadn’t turned on the oven in our place before vintage and had to send Greg a photo to ask him if it was on the right setting. I ate cereal for dinner a few times. What have I become? Once Covid hit and I didn’t have to leave the house for work, things changed. In isolation, I could eat whatever, when I was hungry. It also turned out that meals of chocolate and wine were pretty easy to prepare!
We knew going into vintage that Greg would get one day off per week, which thankfully ended up aligning with one of mine. I thought, “oh this will be great! We are used to only having one day a week together so this will be the same!” Wrong. Try coordinating eating and sleeping when you’re on complete opposite schedules. It doesn’t work. One of us was either hungry, or not hungry, or sleeping or tired or wide awake and wired. Covid actually helped us in this area, because once I started working from home, I made my own hours. I switched to night shift. I slept in with Greg, did my work in the evenings, and stayed up until he got home to have a drink or catch up with him. We would go to bed together around 3.00am or 4.00am and it worked really well (apart from the odd 10.00am meetings I had – those were rough).
I have a whole new respect for anyone that works nights as part of their regular schedule. Health care professionals, police, trades workers and so many others do this regularly and don’t see their partners on certain days, and have messed up sleep. Some people’s partners travel often for work and they run their relationships via impersonal contact. Kudos to all of you.
The week that Covid-19 became a huge reality in New Zealand and we went through hourly changes that eventually lead to the closure of my Cellar Door, Greg and I didn’t have a face to face conversation for 6 days. I informed him of only the major things via text. I had a lot of mental processing to do, but I couldn’t process with him. Having someone to talk to about your life who knows you, and who you are, is quite valuable. You can vent to them and they accept you. They can challenge your perspectives, and present new view points. I noticed Greg’s absence the most that week, as I was going through a lot without the support I was used to. I had to lean on other people.
On a much deeper level, one night, I found myself contemplating the point of life. For me, I’ve realized that a lot of my joy in life comes from living it with someone, and Greg is the partner I chose to do that with. Even just sharing small, every day things makes life better for me than when I am doing those same things by myself.
Little things like his cooking, or being there to listen when I need an ear reminded me of how much he does around here. How clean I was able to keep the house reminded me of how much mess he makes too! He does a lot for me, and vintage life reminded me some of why I appreciate him.
Vintage is over, and Greg’s back on days. We’re back to working very similar hours, and eating dinner together and trying to find a new normal in this ever changing life of ours. It’s interesting how something I was so afraid of at the beginning could become something I got used to and even appreciated at times. We, as people, adjust. We deal with what we have to and we make things work. It still surprises me how flexible we can be when we have to be. If life was all the same though, it would just be boring, right?
I’m proud to hang up my “vintage widow” hat for now though. And hey, I work in the Cellar now. Who knows what’ll happen next vintage, or where we’ll be. We’ll find out in due time.
And to all you vintage windows out there, especially the Moms, you rock.