It began in the night, without so much as a rumble or a tremor. A little split in the ground, a miniature incision in the soil. In a matter of hours, when the moon had begun to sink in the dawning sky, it had grown four or five times its original size, so that it looked like hole dug for a sapling tree. When the first fingertips of dawn struck the grapes in the field, it was like an opening in which to lay pipe or cable.

In fact, this is what he thought when he first stepped foot outside of his door. After convincing himself that it was not a trick that the dim sunlight was playing on him, he wondered whether or not the municipal workers had been by in order to install an irrigation or cable line. But it was irregular, shoddy, like it had been carved without light or proper instruments, not like the municipal workers would dig. It didn't make sense anyway; he had asked for no plumbing to be laid, he had survived for nearly sixty years on his own well water, and certainly no cable.

He resigned himself to the fact that he could do nothing about it, especially not so early as no one in the Public Works Department would be up at this hour. And so he rolled up the sleeves of his old flannel shirt and set to work in the fields.

The grapes were arranged in two large parcels, on the left were the Chardonnay, on the right were the Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay were much darker than the Sauvignon Blanc, so he usually started with the Sauvignon Blanc and worked his way over to the Chardonnay when the sun would illuminate them much better. When he was a child, there were three parcels of land, where in addition they would grow Riesling grapes. But soon after his sixteenth birthday they began to stop planting anything but the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc, because they couldn't sell enough of them to cover the costs of growing. It was a shame, he had thought, he had always been fond of the Riesling grapes, not just because they produced excellent wine, but because they were the best to eat. They tasted a little like honey, he recalled, although he hadn't eaten one in years. When he and his father went out picking grapes in the morning, he would always run to the Riesling parcel and start picking there. He had a system—he would pick twenty-five grapes and then eat one. That way he wouldn't be tempted to eat more than he picked, because he stuck to the system.

Having a system became more useful after his father died and the hired hands left one by one, because they could no longer be paid, and he was left all alone to do the work. And so he resolved to wake up every morning at dawn and pick grapes until noon, and in forty-five years he had only failed this resolution twice, once to go to Sacramento to his son's wedding, and once due to a near-crippling bout of severe bronchitis.

The bronchitis was fourteen years ago. For fourteen years he had brought at least six baskets of grapes into the winery behind the house, for fourteen years he had spent his mornings in the fields and his afternoons in the back rooms turning the grapes into wine. Today, he was fortunate enough to fill seven wide baskets, and when he was done, he walked back around to the front door to find that the pipeline hole had grown, and was now deep enough that he could lie in it and still have room for three or four of him to spare.

Once he was inside, he washed his hands of dirt and juice. He remembered, as he did every time he looked at them, how his hands used to look. They were an even gold from the Calistoga sun, with little white snowcap knuckles that peaked when he carried heavy buckets of grapes into the house. Those were the hands that plucked tender Riesling grapes from their stems. Those were the hands that clutched the white fingers of his fiancée. But these before him were brown and cracked and caked with dirt that had long since saturated his skin.

He wiped his hands off and looked in his refrigerator. Salad dressing, mustard. Eggs, a pack of cheese slices, packaged sliced turkey. He found a bag of white bread in the cupboard and made a cheese-and-mustard sandwich, upon discovering that the turkey had long since gone grown mold.

After lunch, the hole had grown again. It looked like a tiny valley in his front yard, descending down into the earth. From his front porch, he realized he could no longer see its bottom.

He passed away the afternoon in the back rooms, which had only the slightest windows to let in minimal light. The posterior winery was older than the house by some years, and was constructed from unfinished and unpainted wood, split and splintered in sections. Still it had stood for nearly eighty years, built when his father was only a hired worker. It was this house which he was born in, and this house he had spent all of his life. When he was married, he and his wife moved into the bedroom in which he had spent his boyhood, and it was left to them when his siblings left and his parents died.

And now it was all his. The last memory of his wife was the tail lights of a crimson Camaro, her hair bobbing in the passenger seat. She kissed him on the cheek before leaving, saying that she really did love him, but all he would ever do is grow old, and she couldn't live that way.

She sent him letters every now and then, with a Palo Alto address, but he never opened them. He kept them in a box in his bedroom, where he had always planned on reading them but never saw reason enough to ever actually take one out and read what she had to say. They were probably full of useless lies anyway.

It was the first morning he had woken in twenty-five years to a cold absence at his back, but he rose to his feet like always, and picked eight baskets of grapes.

The wine press looked like a large butter churn, with a ratchet on the top that swiveled around parallel to the ground. Every day after lunch he would fill it with the grapes he had collected, after de-stemming them, one basket at a time, and push the ratchet handle until all the juice and pulp was squeezed out of them, and the skins left in a tray at the bottom. It was arduous, and not easy to move. Many wineries had tall, stainless steel pneumatic wine presses that pressed the grapes into almost flawless juice. He had seen them; they stretched to the ceiling like towers, and could press thousands of baskets of grapes in a day. But he had also tasted the wine. It tasted like steel.

When that was done, he strained the juice through filters, checking for seeds and pips, and placed the juice in large oak barrels, scribbling the date on the top. He would let them sit for two years before taking them out again, after the juice had fermented and the oak been soaked into the wine, and then would bottle them.

The bars of light on the wall had dimmed to near nothing, and the winery lit by a lantern when the rumbling of tires interrupted his work. He traced a list in his mind of all the people that would visit in the evening. He had no friends. The milk and the mail had been there in the morning, and no solicitor would drive from house to faraway house in Calistoga. Perhaps, he thought, it was the Public Works Department, come to finish whatever mess they had begun in his yard.

In front of the house, the hole was three times the size it had been when he had begun to pick. It could swallow one of the colossal wine presses in the Mondavi and Gallo wineries, with ease. In the yellow headlights, it looked ghastly, like a black scar across the earth. The car parked and turned off its lights, and she emerged from the driver's side door.

Ella. He had forgotten that it was the third Friday of the month, Ella's regular visiting day. It was no surprise; he always forgot, or else he would have gone to the store and bought something for dinner. But she had anticipated this, and brought with her a porcelain dish. Casserole, probably. She had an affinity for casserole.

She was the kind of girl that walked as if she was aware of everything that was around her. Her eyes darted from left to right, surveying everything. And so she noticed the growing rift in the ground and said, "Hello, Dad. Are you digging a new well?"

"No," he said, wringing the stench and stick of grape off of his hands. "I don't know where it's from. It was there this morning and it's just been getting bigger."

She stood there momentarily, very apparently not sure of what to say. She finally settled on "Oh," and made her way around the hole to the front door. Her high heels left tiny imprints in the dust.

When he had gone down to the cellar to retrieve an old bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, she looked in his refrigerator and cupboards to see how much food he had, as he knew she always did from listening to the poorly disguised rattle and clank of cupboard drawers opening and shutting. She would take plates from the top cupboard so that it didn't seem like she was spying, but no matter how many years she had lived there, she always needed to search every drawer to find the plates, which had remained in the same place ever since the house had been built. By the time he returned, the casserole was on plates and the silverware and napkins set out.

He poured the wine into glasses—this, at least, was still his part of the meal.

"Let me write you a check," she said. She would always say. "Just a little bit. To buy milk, and eggs, and bread and things."

"No," he said. He would always say. "I'm still alive, and I plan on living for a little while longer now, whether I've got milk or eggs or bread or not. I can live without the power and I can live without the telephone if I have to." She tightened her lips into a fist. "But I won't have to," he added. "Because I'm fine."

"Have the Bayleaf people called again?"

He spoke through a thick aggregation of casserole. "Yes. I told them to stop calling."

She put her fork down. She had hardly eaten more than a bite of it, and he was already on his second helping. "How much are they offering?"

"I didn't ask," he said.

"You didn't ask?" She threw her hands up in the air. She had the same hand gestures as her mother, hands that were forever traveling upward and outward on the trains of her words. "Surely they offered."

He sighed. "They offered a hundred, this time."

"A hundred thousand!" Her hands exploded. "Dad, they offered you a hundred thousand dollars and you're not going to accept?"

"A hundred thousand is nothing to the Bayleaf people. That's less than the number of bottles of Chardonnay they produce in a year. In two years they'll have made twice that amount. You know those giant automatic harvesting machines? They have about fifty of them, all over California, and they cost thirty or forty thousand dollars apiece. And if I won't pay a hundred thousand for it—which I won't—they'll come over here and take it. They'd poison my grapes if they got the chance, just so they could buy out the vineyard."

She scoffed. "Dad, they're not conspiring against you. You should be flattered—it obviously means they think you make good wine. Besides, you won't make that kind of money unless you work day and night for eight or ten years. Think about it. You could retire."

"I don't want to retire," he said firmly. He slammed his fist on the table, and the wood beneath it splintered. "I don't need to retire."

"You're all alone here," she said quietly. "What if you had a heart attack? Or fell? You'd never reach a phone in time to call anyone even remotely close by." She lifted her fallen eyes. "Even if you don't sell the vineyard—leave it to Stephen. John and I have an extra room in our apartment. Besides, you always said you wanted to retire by the Bay."

"The Bay. I like the Bay. San Francisco is a completely different matter. Do you know where the Bayleaf people have their offices? In San Francisco. Not in the Valley. In San Francisco. Things would be a lot better if San Francisco would stay where it is and leave the Valley alone. Besides," he said, "Stephen lives in Modesto now, with your sister-in-law. There's no way he'll want to take care of the vineyard."

"Fine," she said. "I guess I'll see you next month, then. I'll just leave the pot here, you can have the leftovers. I'll pick it up later. Are you sure I can't write you a check?"

"I'm sure," he said.

She picked up her pocketbook and opened the front door. "Oh my God!" she said as her spine crystallized and her hands flew to her mouth.

He looked over her shoulder. Until now what had been a hole was a chasm, a rift, a split in the soil large enough to hide a full grown elephant. It looked like a mouth, grinning and toothless, waiting for prey.

"Promise me," she said, "you'll call someone to come and look at it in the morning." He nodded. "I think I'd better leave before it devours my car."

Night passed noiselessly. In the morning, the grapes hung heavy with dew, their stems cracking under the weight. Purple clouds rolled in over the Valley, like smoke signals from the mountains, and enveloped the sun. The air around everything was wet, so wet that when he picked he couldn't tell what was sweat and what was condensation on his face and arms.

Like a vagrant monster it came rolling down the path from the empty highway, wide and grey. It was latched to a barrel-chested truck, but it looked like a massive cruise ship being guided by a tugboat. It kicked dust up in its wake, and came to a painful halt a few feet before the rift.

"Building a swimming pool?" asked a little man, emerging from the truck cab and walking around to unhitch the gas-powered harvester. "I didn't think you were the type, Leland."

"I'm not," he said, returning from the vineyard. "I'm not the type for a lot of things, Julio." Julio was the perfect vintner because he was shaped like a grape, and shook like he was full of pulp and seeds. His Italian skin had been baked to a fine brown in the Calistoga sun. "Like harvesting machines." The word "machines" was a bullet.

"Leland," Julio said, climbing the ladder to the top of the great blue creature. "My employer has authorized me to come down and show you how the whole operation works, in hope that you'll change your mind." He turned a key in its ignition, and it came to life, roaring and hissing. It shook, and Julio shook with it, but he didn't seem uncomfortable in the least. "Come up here, Leland. Let me show you."

Leland looked around. The clouds were getting darker still, and there was still work to be done. He didn't want to waste his time on a clanking caboose that would crush his grapes and make them taste like steel and paint and fuel exhaust.

Seeing that he was not coming, Julio called out again. "Give me fifteen minutes, Leland. That's all I ask. We go back a long way, and it's all I ask." Julio had worked for the vineyard a long time ago, when Leland had been engaged, and was the last man to leave for more lucrative work. He went to work for Bayleaf, sucking grapes through giant tubes and conveyer belts, and growing slowly fat on the backs of harvesters.

"Fifteen minutes, Julio." He consented, finally climbing the ladder and holding tight to the bars in front of the machine's cab. "That's all you ask, and it's all you get." The machine heaved and tossed, and he felt as if he were going to be thrown off. "You see, Leland," said the grape-man, as he chugged around the rift and into the vineyard. "It looks big and destructive, but this thing has a gentler touch than you and I ever had. It plucks each grape off from the tops of the vines, carefully removing it from the stem." Julio smiled. "And it only takes about fifteen minutes to go down a row and back."

"Why are you showing me this?" Leland asked.

"Well," said Julio. "In addition to the original payment for your vineyard, you'll get a check every month from Bayleaf. Five cents on the dollar. It doesn't sound like a lot, but that's more than any of us will get paid. With the amount of grapes this thing can pluck in an hour's time, you'll be fine, Leland."

"And what will I do with all that money?"

"Whatever you want, Leland. Go get a nice house in Modesto so you can be near your son. So you can be near your grandkids, Leland. Go and get an apartment in San Francisco so you can be near Ella when she has her kids."

"Ella's not expecting any kids," he said.

"But how long until she is? She's a successful young woman, and successful young women always want successful young babies to call their own. Once she has a baby, Leland, she can't come up here every month." The machine reached the end of the row and turned slowly around to the opposite side. They sat in silence until they reached the edge of the vineyard, where Julio turned the machine off and placed his hands on his lap. "What do you say, old friend? A hundred thousand dollars. A hundred thousand dollars will make the Leland Cutting Vineyard a favorite name among wine-drinkers. With this land, we could plant five, six times as many grapes. A hundred thousand dollars will bring Cutting Chardonnay to every sophisticated wine cellar in the country." He placed a friendly hand on Leland's back. "A hundred thousand dollars and we'll start making Riesling again."

Leland looked back at the row of vines, which now looked strangely bare. Pick a thousand grapes, and then eat one. Pick a thousand grapes, and then eat one. There was the system. "No. No sale."

"But Leland…" Julio began.

"No! No sale, no harvesters, no money, no Riesling! No sale!"

"Leland!" said Julio. "Think about your children, and your grandchildren! If not you, surely they could use this money!"

Leland scurried down the ladder in haste, blood filling his brain and his eyes and his fingers. "How dare you!" he said as he was on the ground. "How dare you use my own children and grandchildren against me! How dare you Julio, how dare you!"

"Leland, I…"

"Get this machine, this beast off of my land immediately, or I will call the police and have it impounded!" He stamped his foot, and it sent a shockwave through the vineyard, through the splintered wood of the winery and the foundations of the house. The rift in the yard, which had been motionless in all the time he had set his eyes on it, split with a sound like the ripping of fabric or flesh. It opened wide, yawning and swallowing dirt and gulping down air.

After a few moments, it settled, and everything was as silent. "Leland," Julio said after a long pause, "If you don't get any money, that hole—whatever it is—is going to be the death of the vineyard, and the house, and everything you're holding on to so tightly. Promise me you'll think about it."

"I will think about nothing," he quipped, making sure not to stamp his foot again. "Leave. Immediately."

"I'll call you next week," said Julio, as he drove the machine to the truck, trying to narrowly avoid getting a wheel stuck in the rift. Before he left, he gathered the grapes that had been collected in the machine's bin and put them into the baskets that he had brought with him. They were roughly the same size as the baskets that Leland used, but there were twenty of them, filled to the brim.

When Julio had gone, he took one out and slipped it into his mouth. He closed his eyes and imagined Riesling honey, but all he could taste was the steel of the harvester's gut. One by one, he carried the baskets to the rift in his yard and dropped the grapes into them, falling into darkness. He listened for the sound of the grapes hitting the bottom, but it never came.

The storm rolled over the hills and through the valley, and the raindrops fell pregnant and scattered on everything, churning the dust into mud. Flashes of lightning would illuminate the rift in the night, but he slept with his back to the window so that it wouldn't distract him from his sleep. Lightning had not struck the winery or the house in all the decades they had stood. Lightning struck the mountains, it struck the trees, and so when the octogenarian wood burst into a sacrifice of fire, he reasoned that it couldn't have been lightning.

He awoke to no crack, but the faint and unnatural sizzle of the flames. He couldn't see it because it was behind him where there were no windows or doors into the winery, but he could hear it cackle and hiss, and he could smell the smoke even through the driving rain. In his bathrobe he ran out to the winery, fumbling for the water hose without the benefit of his glasses. With his poor eyesight, the tongues of fire spread and blurred into an even glow, a hellish halo around the building. When the rain and well-water had extinguished the flames, the winery was nothing but a shell, a black opened egg with its roof split and spread open to the heavens. He said a prayer, in thanks that the grapes had survived, but knew in the dregs of his chest and the pit of his ribcage that he had not won.

In the morning the rain had passed back into the mountains. When the fingertips of dawn first struck the carcass of the winery, he took the charred splinters and planks to the rift, and dumped them in. He took the ashes and the remains of his wine press and disposed of them there, too. For all the years he had been alive the winery smelled like honey and elderberry and oak, and now it merely smelled of smoke.

It took Julio and the Bayleaf men a day to write up their formal offer. It was the third time he had never picked grapes at dawn, and the thought of it being the first in a series of hundreds was sour. When they parked their Mercedes in the driveway, they had to park nearly forty yards from the house, because that was how far the rift had grown. It was now a chasm, seemingly bottomless and infinite. The edges had extended well past the sides of the house almost into the vineyard. They stepped lightly around them to reach the front door.

It was Julio who entered first, rolling through the door without even knocking. For the first time in years, his old friend greeted him with a smile. "Julio," said Leland, "I'm so happy to see you."

"Leland," he said, "It's good to see you too. I heard about your tragedy. It seems this place just isn't holding up, is it?"

"No," the old man replied. "But I'm sure you fellows can fix that, can't you? A new winery. A little cement for the front yard, it will be as good as new."

There were two other men who followed, both in suits and ties, notably younger than either Leland or Julio. Their hands, Leland noticed, where white and smooth like snow. They looked as if they had never touched a grape, only flutes and glass stems. They introduced themselves as Robert Apuli and Samuel Asbury, Robert and Sam if you like. Old friends that he had never met.

"Now Mr. Cutting," said Robert as he sat at the kitchen table, stroking his tie, "I understand that the land is in a little bit of disrepair." He motioned backward with his thumb, referring to the chasm. "Julio told us that you had a bit of a fracture in your front yard, but we were expecting something… well, smaller." Leland smirked. "But we want to assure you, with the money your fine vineyard will bring to Bayleaf Wines, repairs will be no problem and will interfere in this sale in no way."

"The particulars," said Sam, who leaned against the refrigerator the way that Stephen had done before he left the house, "are thus: You agree to give us the rights to this land and your grapes for a hundred thousand dollars. I don't mind telling you, Mr. Cutting, this is prime wine grape land. It doesn't get any better in Calistoga. Also, we want to let you know that the wine produced here will stay under your name, as, ah…" He shuffled through some papers he had in hand. "Cutting Vineyards Chardonnay and Cutting Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc." Sam spoke Sauvignon like a Parisian, lolling and consonant-less. "We also have some plans, under Julio's recommendation, to add a line of Riesling wine. Do you agree to these stipulations?"

"Oh, yes," Leland said, "they're just fine." The house shook in a great spasm, and the two young men immediately braced themselves on the furniture. The sudden tremor faded in seconds.

"What was that?" asked Robert.

"Oh, you know," Leland said, "just the benefits of living in Northern California. I'm sure it's nothing you boys don't experience in San Francisco." He clasped his hands together on the table. "Those stipulations sound fine, Sam. But can I ask you a question?"

"Shoot," Sam said, visibly shaken.

"As I told you on the phone, my winery caught on fire the other night."

Sam shook his head. "A terrible tragedy."

"And I'm sure you know," Leland continued, "that I have to sell because it would cost me too much to rebuild my winery. I have no other options." The men remained silent. "In fact, you might say that it was a little bit lucky for you Bayleaf folks. Quite coincidentally lucky."

Robert narrowed his eyes behind the pane of his glasses. "Sir, are you accusing us of setting your winery on fire? Because there was a storm that night, sir, wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that it was struck by lightning"

"Eighty years," Leland said, "and it had never been struck by lightning until just after I refuse your hundred thousand dollar offer. It's like nature is conspiring for you, I suppose." The house shook again, this time even more violently. Dishes clattered in the cupboards; wine bottles could be heard breaking in the cellar.

"What the hell's going on?" said Julio, who had been silent until this point.

There was a knock at the door. "Come in," called Leland, and she did. She looked around at everyone, registering their faces in her mind before she spoke. "You have company, Dad?"

"Ella!" he said.

"Gentlemen," she said, "I think it's fair to warn you that your tires are teetering over the brink of a very large hole. Perhaps you should be more careful when you park."

"We must have parked ten yards from that hole!" said Robert. "Did you put it in park?" he said to Sam.

Leland began to panic. He rose from his seat and tried to push Ella to the door. "Ella," he said, "You have to leave. Leave now. Leave now and go home to John, please."

Julio scampered to the window, "It's growing," he said. "Leland, do you know how close this thing is getting to your foundation?"

"Leave now," Leland said. "I'm in the middle of an important meeting, please, Ella, leave."

Ella placed a hand upon her stomach. "But, Dad, I just thought you'd want me to tell you the good news in person."

The chasm roared. The ground shook, and the house in turn splintered. The floorboards snapped, louder than the snap of lightning or the grating hiss of a harvester. Plates shifted and the earth folded as concrete slabs were torn into a thousand pieces. It took them only a few seconds to realize what was happening, but that was really all they had.