Risotto Gone Wrong

By Riggs Fulmer

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, careful itineraries can crumble with one untoward event, and the most convivial brunch can turn into an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout in stylish footwear; but rarely has a gathering, at which no one was killed or injured, gone so completely, horribly wrong. That risotto, most elegant scion of faux-peasant fare, should be at the center of the calamity. That it would indeed be its catalyst, is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

Legally, many of the parties involved in this story cannot be named.  Nonetheless, the crack investigative squad at the Wine Press sprang into action, dispatching this reporter—known to be their most flexible—to cover the scene in as much detail as possible.  Through interviews conducted in Napa Valley, McMinnville jail, and Portland’s Crystal Ballroom and Teardrop Lounge, the events of that bleary night have been brought into some modicum of focus.

After a good week’s work on the bottling lines, a group of local winery employees got together on a Friday night for some drinking and eating among friends. The boyfriend of the hostess, poking around in the kitchen, found some likely ingredients and decided to whip up a little risotto. The idea was met with general acclaim, and the tipsy cook happily shared his wine with the dish as he stirred the rice. In the freezer he found some dried mushrooms, which smelled fine, so into the rice they went, along with a hunk of Reggiano, homemade vegetable stock, some heavy cream…

Soon the house was filled with the delicious smells of an extemporaneous meal, and when the food was done, the now-ravenous friends fell on the rice, devouring the entire pot in the course of an increasingly drunken hour or so.

More bottles were opened, and a few of the friends wandered out onto the porch for a postprandial smoke. It was a clear night, and the moon shone brightly. Soon it began to become apparent that the moon seemed to be shining a little too brightly.

By the time the three smokers noticed that every blade of grass in the lawn was perfectly distinct from every other, and that the music from inside seemed to be coming from across the street through a bullhorn, they wandered back in to find a room markedly more animated than it had been. The cook and his girlfriend were curled together on the couch, giggling, and the confession was made: it happened that there had been two bags of mushrooms in the freezer, and it seemed that the chanterelles had remained untouched…

But, determined to make lemonade of their situational lemons, the party moved outside, guitars were procured, and there were noises about a fire pit. That was when one of the partygoers came back out from inside the house, holding a copy of the DVD “Signs,” grinning wickedly.  

Living out in wine country, as they did, there were fields on three sides of the property, and a large barn on the fourth. Of the three fields around the house, one was corn, one an excellent Pinot vineyard, and one an old, overgrown blackberry farm. This field was the obvious choice for their plan; as they choked with laughter and passed around a bottle of Cameroni Giuliano, they decided to get their extraterrestrial on: crop circles in the blackberry field.

It did not take long for two of them to creep across the street, to where their farming neighbor had his new brush-clearing tractor parked outside the barn. They disengaged the brake and pushed the beast back across the road, where they found a heavy, abandoned door in an old pile of odds and ends behind the house. Chaining the door to the back of the tractor, for all the world like a bridal train, they managed to hotwire the tractor into life. Quick work with the wire-cutters did for the fence—which was not nearly as decrepit as they’d expected—and into the bare old vines they went.

The tractor chewed up the woody vines, and the cutter removed the wires from their path; the heavy door dragging behind them (its weight periodically supplemented by one or more of the culprits’ “surfing” on it over the bracken) flattened what was left.

Abandoning their initial idea to reproduce the symbols from Led Zeppelin 4, they ended up clearing a large circle, with petal-like appendages surrounding it. When the moon began to set, and the mushrooms to relinquish their squishy hold, the crew got up from the new clearing, detached the door, and eventually got the tractor back across the street to some semblance of its original position. A few more slugs of wine, and some anticipatory laughter to think of the reaction to their prank, and they fell into puddles on the living room floor, asleep almost immediately.

Some hours later, they were awakened by a heavy pounding on the front door. Knocking a half-full bottle out of his way, the boyfriend/chef opened the door to reveal the very agitated tractor’s owner standing in a halo of improbably bright sunlight. In a few minutes, their dreadful mistake was made clear to them.  

When the farmer came out in the early morning, he found his tractor covered in detritus from the night before, at the head of a clear path leading from the shattered fence of the Pinot vineyard across the street, over the partygoers’ lawn, and up to his barn.  

The wires under the steering wheel were hanging out like entrails, and chains still dangled down behind. He wandered, increasingly horrified, along the tractor’s path, and saw a huge section of vineyard—25-year-old premium Pinot vines—completely demolished. He did not think to notice the untouched blackberry field beyond the house as he wandered up onto the porch, dialing the police on his cell phone.

Bemused and disoriented by heavy doses of psilocybin risotto, they had crop-circled the wrong field, doing what was estimated to be a quarter-million dollars’ damage to the vineyard—which is owned by a large California conglomerate who have threatened to sue the OWP if their name is published. The ten friends were arrested, then released on their own recognizance. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for two weeks later.

These two weeks became a media circus. Aerial photography of their design—really quite admirably done, all things considered—made it onto the Internet, and UFOlogists and sci-fi freaks of every stripe, convinced that the story of the drunken party was itself a cover-up, or maybe not caring either way and just wanting a party of their own, began to pour in.

Red Hills Provincial Dining and Tina’s looked like a Star Trek convention, and the traffic on 99W became even more unmanageable than usual. People sneaked through the police cordon around the damaged vineyard, setting up small camps. Two couples were married there, one child was born, and presumably quite a few were conceived as well.

However, when local sales of wine, beer, groceries and food shot up by more than 1000 percent, the earlier cries to jail the “Dundee 8,” as they’d been dubbed, cooled considerably. The owners of the vineyard consulted with Randall Graham, who agreed to make a Pinot version of Cigare Volant from the remaining grapes, paying a staggering sum for the honor, more than covering the loss from the crop circle.

When the hearing was convened, then, the California claimants had decided to be magnanimous. A statement delivered by their lawyer indicated that, since there had been no malice aforethought, there was little purpose in further punishing these 8 fine young people. Although some remaining loose ends remain to be tied up, preventing us from publishing any full names, only one of the partygoers to be jailed was arrested for making love to a blue-painted Reed college co-ed while onstage at a Jefferson Airplane reunion concert held to defray any legal costs. Unfortunately, it happened that the young Reedie’s parents were in attendance at the concert, and (despite Marty Balin’s argument that their “work” had “really quite artfully complemented” Airplane’s set) pressed indecency charges.

As it stands now, though, things are slowly returning to normal. The young lady and her mushroom-aficionado boyfriend have moved into the house together. The tractor’s owner has set up a small but bustling UFO-themed souvenir stand called “Roswell North.” Two of the circlers have patented their vine-removal system and are hard at work tearing out Pinot Gris and replanting to Riesling, and a fifth was hired by Kendall Jackson to be a landscaping and vineyard management consultant. Two others have started an Alien Erotica website featuring “intimate” crop circles, which has received over two million hits in its first month of operation, and a positive review in Wine Spectator. The one remains in jail, but has become engaged to his Reed College paramour, with plans to marry at Paul Kantner’s home in Marin County later this year.

So, although some helpful cliché certainly waits to comfort, maybe all’s well that ends well, it seems we’re still left groping for a moral to this story. Is it: Be careful when labeling your mushrooms, or lock up your tractor? Is it that one shouldn’t have sex in public, or that one should make sure one’s parents aren’t present while doing so? Is it that drinking Cameron causes you to see aliens? The best this reporter can come up with is that amateur mycology, Mediterranean cuisine and experimental landscaping do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Although, it must be said, that risotto was delicious!  AF!

Riggs Fulmer is a language-loving wine writer and musician. He resides in Portland.

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