To veteran winemaker Bruno D’Alfonso, the screams exploding from the neighboring winery were eerily familiar, reminiscent of a sailing trip many years ago to Santa Cruz Island with his former boss, Richard Sanford, when their first mate got his hand crushed between the anchor chain and winch. “It was the same sound coming from Chris Bratcher’s area,” said D’Alfonso of what happened Tuesday morning, September 2. “But it was sustained. I knew exactly in my gut what had happened.”
Bratcher, who makes his eponymously labeled wine at the Arcadian Winery on Santa Rosa Road in the Sta. Rita Hills between Lompoc and Buellton, emerged from the facility and started running toward D’Alfonso, who makes his wine next door. “I saw that his hand wasn’t in the normal fashion,” said a very contemplative D’Alfonso over the phone on Thursday evening, his voice a bit trembly in recalling the traumatic incident. In fact, Bratcher’s right hand was missing, as it had been chopped off while he was cleaning the crusher-destemmer, a very common device used for processing just-picked grapes.
“These machines are animals,” said D’Alfonso, who was familiar with the particular model. “They have no conscience. They work perfectly well, but they don’t stop working. I don’t fear them, but I am wary of them.”
D’Alfonso told his bookkeeper to call 911, laid Bratcher onto the lap of his assistant winemaker, spun a nearby tablecloth into a tourniquet, and surrounded the wound with ice. “When you’re called upon to do the thing, you gotta be ready,” said D’Alfonso, explaining that he had to bury all his fears and emotions to carry forth with helping Bratcher. “All of your anxiety will come up later, and it has.”
As they waited 10 minutes or so for the paramedics and, eventually, the helicopter that would whisk him away to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, they joked with Bratcher, and he even laughed, in between making personal calls on his cell phone to friends and family.
“Chris Bratcher has square nuts,” said D’Alfonso of his fortitude. “He didn’t go off. He kept his wits about him. He wasn’t a bad patient. He was really good about everything.”
When the medical entourage arrived, D’Alfonso was able to find Bratcher’s hand in the crusher-destemmer, exactly where he expected it to be. It was clearly too late to be reattached, but they loaded it on the helicopter to bring to the hospital anyway. Upon examining the device, D’Alfonso’s premonition of how it happened was confirmed, though he wouldn’t expand on that, as the official investigators have yet to take his account. He did say one thing, though. “The fault does not reside with Chris at all,” said D’Alfsono. “He was doing everything in the proper fashion.”
D’Alfonso has since spoken to Bratcher a few times from the hospital, and says he is doing well, all things considered. “This is life-changing,” said D’Alfonso. “But I will do whatever I can to complete and make everything whole as much as I can. If he intends on continuing with this harvest, we will take care of his stuff. We will do that.”