The Ten Wives of Ed Burger—A Vineyard Fable

Ed BurgerThis time of year in Wine Country always makes me think of my Grandfather, Ed Burger. He was married 10 times.

As I drive around Wine Country this time of year and start to see the crews in vineyards, pruning the dormant vines, I am not made to think of the “cycles” of  the vineyard. My mind doesn’t give way to notions of “Hope” or “Renewal”, as perhaps they should. Rather, it’s this time of year in Wine Country that always makes me think of the saying, “If you don’t get it right the first time, try-try again!”

This isn’t to say that I think the growers and winemakers “failed” and must try again. Rather, I’m struck by the idea of simply starting all over again. It is forced upon the grower by nature, I understand. What gets me is the happy and natural way growers and vintners just dive back in and start over.

Ed Burger did that with marriages. He would have appreciated the willingness of grapegrowers to continually start over. After marrying my grandmother, Myrtle and with her producing his one and only child, my  mother Alverna, Ed divorced his first wife. Alverna would be his only child. But that didn’t stop him from trying the married life again.

In fact, Ed tried it 9 more times before he died of a heart attack in 1975 while in the driver’s seat of a cement-pouring truck as he laid a foundation for one of the hundreds of homes he built in Marin County, California. He was in his mid-70s.

So when I drive around Napa and Sonoma this time of year and see the pruning underway and see a new chance at a new vintage beginning, I see the perpetually smiling face of my Granddad. I know, It’s a weird connection. But it’s mine.

It is this idea of “another chance” that imbues agriculture with a spiritual and transcendent character. Nature always provides us with another chance. Is wine the only product that quantifies and memorializes this spiritual aspect of agriculture by labeling the second chances with years? It might be.

I remember at Ed Burger’s funeral a whole host of ex-wives showed up. It made my mother uncomfortable as a few were her age. I’ve always believed that the thing about Granddad that convinced the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th wife to agree to become the next Mrs. Ed Burger was the same quality that drove Ed to ask them to become one of his many sequel wives: His optimism that the next time could be better. His faith that he’d get it just right the next time. It’s a very compelling attribute.

This time of year in the vineyard we see evidence of the collaboration between man and nature working together in the service of the idea that there is always a chance to get it right the next time. Ed would have understood the idea perfectly.

One Response

  1. Charlie Olken - January 29, 2013

    Ten wives–my first thought was that you were going to riff on the notion of ten different vineyard designate Pinot Noirs. But no. You kept to wives and renewal and the human condition that the next time, it will be “got right”.

    People in Brooklyn years ago used to say that about their baseball team. “Wait till next year”, was the inevitable cry the very first time that the Dodgers lost a game. But just like Eddie Burger and Brooklyn Dodger fans, vineyardists and winemakers are in the “next year” business as well.

    The difference, of course, is that folks in the wine business can get it right multiple times–whether that is vintage after vintage of 14 vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from Williams Selyem.

    And thanks for not saving this story until Valentine’s Day.

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