Anyone who is on my Facebook feed knows by now that the latest iteration of Wine Camp did not end well. So horrific was the outcome of Wine Camp 2015 that the post about it received over a hundred comments before I took it down. But private messages continued to come in from people begging me not to close Wine Camp because “my kids would love it and I guarantee they will behave well”. Even more messages came in from people saying “Maybe you need to only have adults in Wine Camp. Can I join?” Truthfully, I’d hate to stop having people visit here for a bit of a Ranch Experience, but I don’t think I could live through another iteration like the last one which ended with me 86ing the Wine Campers, then facing a huge clean up of the areas they trashed, while tallying up the bills for the liquor they stole (or poured down the sink), the propane they burned by cranking up the pool to 104 degrees or the electricity they wasted by blasting the air conditioning at 64 degrees day and night. As the dust has settled, it occurs to me, the roots of this disaster were in misunderstanding. I’d told their parents they were coming here for a working vacation where they’d spend part of their time doing ranch chores, some of their time learning about winemaking and the rest of the time being squired around scenic Sonoma and Napa. Somehow they translated this plan to Snookums and Sweetums that they would have an all expense paid lounge poolside, nobody would bore them with this wine stuff they had no interest in, and they could be as rude as possible if anyone asked them to lift a finger.
So, in an effort to avoid future Wine Camp disasters. Let me outline the rules. Which I have always discussed with anyone who stays here. But apparently, for some people, it just has to be in writing.
1. There will be work. Some of it will involve icky things. The one constant around here is that there is constant work. I’ve never come up here when I haven’t done at least something that necessitated strong soap and a shower afterwards. On the easy end of the scale is canning which requires hours of harvesting, peeling, prepping and boiling. On the hard end, there is endless mouse poo and terrier hair to be swept up, and masses of equipment to clean. We’ll find some work for you to do. Because we’ll be doing work, either beside you or on another part of the Ranch. Nobody gets a free ride here except terriers.
2. Be prepped for safety. The Ranch is inherently dangerous, and I’m not just talking about the resident Mountain Lion and coyotes. If you or your kid are coming here to work, I need to know that you have had a recent Tetanus shot, that you won’t go into anaphylactic shock if a bee stings you, and that you have enough sense to put on sun screen, appropriate clothes and shoes, and a hat. I also need to know that you are in good physical health. Recent parents sent me a kid with such severe recent health issues that, when I found out, I was loading Medivac emergency numbers into my iPhone. They also sent me a kid who could die from a bee sting, yet traveled without an Epi-pen. I suspect they ignored my health and safety questions because they didn’t want anything to keep Snookums from coming to Sonoma. But, from my perspective, that put a kid in real danger and placed the burden of protecting them on me. DON’T BE THAT PARENT.
3. Be in shape. Strolling around the air conditioned mall won’t do it. Most weeks, I get in two 6-10 mile hikes and two gym sessions. And I still struggle with outdoor work around here. But then, I’m decades older than your kid. If you send me a kid who gets winded every five minutes, can’t lift a small bucket of mulch and can’t make it up one of our trails without wheezing, we’ve got a problem. Don’t send me that kid. Put him on the Couch to 10K program and send him to me when he’s at Week 13. If you send me that kid, I’m going to be mad. I’m going to call you out on it. And we don’t want Snookums crying to his Grandma that some mean old Ranch Lady said he was in appalling shape for an 18 year old.
4. This is a No ‘Tude Zone. There are specific ways we do things here. Many of those rules are for safety reasons. Some are just common sense and good work practice such as putting away your tools and cleaning your workspace after a job. We’ll help you with that, but if we have to keep telling you and telling you, we’re going to get annoyed fast. If you start arguing back, you’re going to be off the Rancho faster than a wood rat chased by a terrier.
5. There’s no crying in Ranch work. It’s hard to have an ego here. If the Sonoma sun and the mouse poo doesn’t knock you down, Ranch Manager Louis will (but in a nice way). I can’t count all the ribbing I’ve had from Cousin John or Louis. I’ve never cried. Probably because they can both work me into the ground and I’m just glad to have their help. Believe me, whatever task we set your kid is going to be, well, kid stuff compared to the regular work we do around here. Even me. And again, if I’m not whining and crying, I don’t expect it from anyone else.
6. We’re so Green, it’s obnoxious. Deal with it. We have three habitable buildings here: a tent cabin, a living loft in the barn and a cabana. Only the latter is air conditioned. And we’ve never put that air conditioning on. All our buildings are designed for passive cooling, and, except on the rare week when the night time temps don’t drop, we can have a 50 degree night after a 100 degree day. Believe me, you don’t need to burn up any fossil fuels. If you are whining that you need the air conditioning at 64, you will get a lecture about Global Warming. The pool is heated by solar to a reliable 85 degrees. If that isn’t warm enough for you, don’t go swimming. And how can you find 84 degrees cold when you’ve just cranked the air conditioning that I asked you not to use down to 64? Likewise, if you ask to be taken to Starbucks or Whole Foods, expect a lecture about eating responsibly and close to the source as we take you to the Farmer’s Market, Sonoma Market or the locally owned Cafe Scooteria. Green lecturing. It’s a thing we do. If you don’t like it, why on earth would you ever want to come here?
7. This is not a reform school. Despite my humorous post that kicked off the idea of Wine Camp, I don’t want your problem kid. If little Sweetums has never had to lift a finger, has always gotten a trophy just for showing up, has no sense of civil behavior and is going to leave the place a shambles, do NOT even broach the subject of sending him here. Believe it or not, I want to enjoy my Wine Campers. I don’t expect ace ranch hands. I expect only enthusiastic incompetence and lots of fun in our downtime. Various past Wine Campers have taught me all the names of the My Little Ponies, the lyrics to K$sha’s rap songs and how not to use my iPhone like an old person. We cleaned stables, canned fruit, planted vegetables and I saw nothing but smiles and laughter. If, in contrast, your kid is going to come here with nothing but attitude, malingering and rudeness, he or she will be set upon by terriers. But seriously, I’d prefer you just sent them to the mall with a credit card. Preferably in another state.
So them’s the rules. I certainly don’t intend to let one rotten bunch of grapes ruin the whole Cabernet. I want to keep welcoming people here who’d like a short stint on a working ranch/winery. But as W. said: “Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!” So we’re not foolin’. The ranch experience isn’t for everyone. Wine Camp certainly isn’t. And I don’t want it to be the kind of experience, for me, that involves a security deposit and produces an ulcer.
Remember the Rancho Los Dos Terriers motto: no one gets a pass except terriers.