Not Just One, But Two Poems about Botrytis

Exploring the benevolent and malevolent natures of Botrytis as imagined through the eyes of Mary Oliver and Charles Bukowski

The following was first read at a Drink.Think a literary and drinking event held at Cantina in San Francisco.

Should you be lucky enough to find yourself in France in the fall just before harvest, you might go for a walk in a vineyard with a winegrower. And you might see a cluster of grapes covered in a grey fuzz that resembles something that grows in the back of your produce drawer. “What is that?” you might ask. And the winegrower might shake his head in dismay. “That,” he sighs “is grey rot. It’s destroying my crop.” And you might walk a little further to a different block in the vineyard and see the same thing. “Look! There is the grey rot,” you might exclaim. “Oh no, no no.” Says the winegrower. “That, that is Noble Rot.”

As a way of exploring the dual nature of the Botrytis — it can either make some of the finest sweet wines in the world or destroy an entire cabernet sauvignon vintage — we channeled the perspectives of two different poets. For Mary Oliver, nature has no moral virtue; nothing is good or bad in nature, it just is. Charles Bukowski on the other hand has no problem assigning moral value to anything and everything and through him we remember the bleakness of the 2011 vintage in northern California.

Botrytis the Benevolent

after Mary Oliver

She winters in the dried mummies of forgotten grapes
bunches of fruit
deemed unworthy of fine wine
or simply overlooked in the dim and din of the early morning pick

Left to rot and dehydrate,
they cling to a tired vine
A vine with nothing left to give
Incubating an invisible threat during the long winter chill

In the spring she hides in the blossoms of would-be grape flowers,
penetrating the stomata,
those tiny hyperventilating pores

She lies in wait
as the blossoms open almost imperceptibly
as they have sex with themselves in the warm spring air— hundreds of them,
an orgy giving birth to grapes of Chardonnay, Charbono, Chasselas

She lies in wait
Until mid-summer
when the tight green orbs of acid
become plump and sweet and the skins begin to soften
vulnerable, relenting

As fog settles into the crevices of hillsides
As Jack Rabbits bound under vines
As Barn owls descend upon their prey

As vignerons stain their teeth tasting for tannins,
for softening of tannins
for the ripeness of tannins
for the flavor and texture of the elusive tannin

As the overall humidity become almost tropical
As the late afternoon turns to drizzle
As the damp of the evening
lingers late into the day

This is when Botrytis Cinerea blossoms
spreading her spores in the cool damp air

Germinating in the sunny, deceptively innocent afternoons

She sinks her tiny teeth into the soft skin of the fruit
wrapping them in a grey blanket

She dehydrates her prey without prejudice
Sauvignon, Semillon, Sagrantino

She can make the mediocre Noble
or cause the great to rot

Grapes like ash
Botrytis with a capital B

Courtney reading at Cantina in San Francisco

Not Yet Now and Never Noble

after Charles Bukowski

Everybody says
Cab can’t  rot
But then it did

There’s a reason they call it Botrytis Fuckelinia

There’s nothing noble about this rot
It’s just plain old rotten rot

We wring our hands and shake our fists
at god
or nature

that old rotten whore

How dare she
with her dirty joke

One day the vineyards are full of grapes
Shades of blue and purple
Plump and eager
Skins stretched over juicy pulp
like girls in too-tight dresses
heading out into the night

The next day
they are full
of rot

Sad sacks of grey
dripping from the vine

A bad one night stand

Clusters full of  rotten dreams
The sure thing
that never delivers

Spores explode
in our faces
As we tear open
bunches of grapes

runs between our fingers
like tears
like blood
like wine