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An owl, a mouse and a fascinating job

Our small business is an example of what economists say is an increasingly common commercial enterprise: small businesses in which the owners perform all or most of the work.

We’ve never had full-timers besides my wife and me. She is also largely responsible for our 12-year-old’s care, but, with a certain 19th-century flair, we divvy up other day-to-day duties: I farm, cook, bottle and sell wine; she packs school lunches, washes clothes, pays bills and helps me bottle and sell wine.

Direct efficiencies outweigh the disadvantages for us, though not being able to be in two places at once sometimes causes problems.

One evening after dark last week, I pressed a load of grapes into wine downstairs — pumping it from outside through hoses into the winery.

Moments before, I’d been inside when I heard an odd thump. I went out, switched on the pump, and, in the glare of work-lights, saw a small owl fly past, maybe 10 feet off the ground. A mouse landed near my feet and skittered away. Imagine! While trying to comprehend mice falling from the sky, I watched the owl bank and land.

Brushes with the wild are never far away where I live/work. And it’s rare to see owls close up. So, as pumping continued, I tip-toed upstairs to get a flashlight and binoculars. Then I watched the owl for six or seven minutes before it gave up and flew off.

I switched the pump off and went inside.

The hose connection likely failed during the pressure surge when the pump went on. Magenta juice had splashed on tanks and ceiling, and an inch-deep pool gurgled into a floor drain. A barrel had been filling with Pinot Noir. When the hose broke, not only did the end connected to the pump continue spewing, but, with the other end still in the barrel, flow reversed and the barrel’s contents siphoned out — my worst outright failure in 16 years making wine. I really don’t really care to speculate how much very valuable Pinot was lost.

The mistake gnawed at me — kept me awake.

Finally, right before dawn, I decided I’d probably never again see a mouse fall from an owl’s clutches, and, the fact is, I have a job that allows such things to fascinate me.

BizBuzz Best Buy — With the first chill of fall in the air, there is no need to talk about white wines! If you’re seasonally tuned in at all, you’ll want a rustic red with a steamy bowl of something. El Cortijillo Tempranillo 2011 (La Mancha, Spain) has broad, supple flavors of mulberry and blackberry, with a surge of mintyness on the nose to lighten its chunky feel — splendid with autumnal fare. $8.