Heart & Soul

Hugh of St. Victor, writing in the 12th century, said, “All nature is pregnant with sense, and nothing in all of the universe is sterile”. We see the truth of this each day in the vineyard.

The vine is the heart of the wine. From the vine, everything comes: the wine is of the vine. 
The place is the heart of the vine. From the place – the land, the soil, the terroir – everything comes: the vine is of the place. 

The climate is the heart of the place. From the climate – the weather, rainfall and sunlight – everything comes: the place is of the climate. 
The world of climate, place, vine is the heart of the wine. From the world, everything comes: the wine is of the world.

Humankind is the soul of the wine. From the people who tend the vines, harvest the grapes, make the wine, the soul of the wine comes. The soul of the wine is of the people.

Early October in the vineyard, winegrapes are ripe, ready for harvest. The winegrower is pleased with the degree of sugar in the berries, the level of acidity and the ph, the flavors and aromas. Picking will begin today.

By 8:00 am, the dew has only just begun to dry from the grape vines and from the grasses on the floor of the vineyard. The pickers gather at the ends of the vine rows; it will be a wet start to the day. Each picker has a pair of clippers, like blunt-nosed scissors, to clip the clusters of grapes from the vine shoots. Most work bare-handed, though some choose to wear light gloves. It is cool this morning, around 50 degrees. The pickers know that before the harvest is complete later in the month, morning temperatures will descend into the low 40’s or even into the 30’s, making those early mornings both wet and cold. Today is a good day.
Each picker has a row to pick, each has several empty grape lugs to fill with the clipped clusters of grapes. Some pickers begin the day slowly, clipping gingerly at first, unwilling to get their hands and arms wet reaching into the vine to get the grapes. They increase their pace as they warm to the day, and as the vines dry. Others hurry along from the beginning, hands moving with great speed as they grasp a cluster in one hand, clip it from the vine with the other, then drop it into the grape lug and reach for another cluster.

The fastest pickers never look at what they cut, they are looking ahead to find the next cluster on the vine. This haste often results in minor cuts as the picker nips a finger rather than a stem. Bandages adorn many fingers before the first hours of harvest are over. Experienced pickers wrap their fingers with tape to protect against these cuts.

It is important that the pickers work carefully, too, not leaving any clusters that should be picked, yet not adding to the lug clusters that have undesirable rot. Rains just before harvest can cause fruit rotting fungi to grow on the grapes, destroying the delicate flavors. Rotten grapes must not go into the wine: careful pickers make for good wine.

May in the vineyard – the shoots are growing very rapidly. Each vine was pruned during the winter, and tied to the trellis wires in April, before bud burst, before the beginning of growth. The act of winter pruning shapes and sizes the vine, fitting it within the space allotted it on the trellis, limiting the amount of grapes the vine will bear. The tying places those canes left after pruning in their proper spot on the trellis, spreading them along the trellis to give each shoot that will grow out of the cane it’s own space in the sunlight.

And now in May, those buds have burst, shoots have begun to grow from them, and the shoots must be cared for by the vineyard workers. Many of the shoots grow where the winegrower wants them – but some need to be guided. Generally, the winegrower intends that shoots will grow upward from their spot on the cane. Sometimes, a shoot may grow sideways, rather than upward. Sideways, out into the row, is not good, that shoot will get in the way of the tractor mowing grass or spraying the vines, and may be broken off. If the shoot grows sideways, workers come through the vineyard and move it up, putting it between two sets of wires, one on each side of the trellis post. Positioned between the wires, the vine soon sends out tendrils which grow around the wire, holding the shoot in place.

Often, too, the vine grows shoots that were not planned for when the pruners did their work. These extra shoots, with their clusters of grapes, can over-tax the vine’s ability to mature the crop. As these extra shoots, called suckers, grow out, the vineyard workers clip them off. The job of tending to the vine is unending – pruning in winter, tying in early spring, removing suckers in summer – all leading up to the moment the picker harvests the grapes: careful vine tending makes for good wine.

In the winecellar, January, the winegrower watches over the wine. Each barrel must be checked at least once a month. Wine evaporates, as much as one bottle from each barrel every month: this lost wine, called the angel’s share, is replaced by topping the barrel. The winegrower removes the bung that stoppers the barrel, draws out a small sample into a tasting glass, swirls, sniffs, tastes. Yes, this barrel is aging well. He takes wine from the topping vat, fills the barrel, topping it, replaces the bung, and moves to the next barrel. He checks and tops each barrel in turn. Smelling and tasting each to catch the first hint of any wine malady, and to assure that the wine is not left in the barrel over-long, acquiring too much woodiness. This careful attention to each barrel is essential: careful attention makes for good wine.

Truely, the heart of the wine is of the vine; the soul of the wine is of the people.

-Copyright © 1998 L. Mawby