Grapes versus People

Who said stress was a bad thing?

You might wonder what people and grapes have in common; well maybe not. I on the other hand have. We both need water, time and room to grow, as well as training. It is only when we are firmly rooted that we can begin to yield our plentiful bounties. Who and what we become depends on where we are planted and how well we are nurtured. If things come too easy for us the ultimate satisfaction will only be par. However, once we are challenged, the ?gratification cork? begins to eek its way out of the bottle and anticipation builds. The ever-so-noticeable pop of the cork is so much more enjoyable when it?s the culmination of hard work and success that has been fermenting for months.

Most people who have seen vineyards are familiar with the wiring that hold the vines up. They are known as trellising systems and also what I call the vines? training. Without it the grapes would be lying on the ground, getting scorched by the sun, probably producing nothing. How much easier is it to teach children to walk when you support them? The ?training? doesn?t end once the vines or children are able to stand on their own either. Leaves need to be removed to make sure that the grapes get the full amount of sunlight that they require (a.k.a. canopy management). There are also some varietals that don?t need to be trellised and simply grow closer to the ground in a bushy format: Grenache, Mourvedre & the gnarly, stumpy Zinfandel vines are a few. Just like children who are independent at a young age, these vines are still treated with the same ?TLC? as the others who may need more attention.

One of the most important factors influencing the way these VITs (vines in training) perform is the soil. Growers and vineyard managers are constantly evaluating and analyzing the soil for varietal compatibility. It?s just a fact that certain grapes perform better in different soil types. Don?t worry, I?m not going to get all geeky on you and go into those. But have you ever felt that things just worked better for you at an old job or in the last city you lived in? Life can be cohesive or chaotic simply by changing our surroundings. Sometimes vineyard owners and winemakers even employ satellite imagery to determine which vineyard blocks are under/over performing. This may result in tweaking irrigation or in the worst case scenario, replanting. Even though it?s the most costly overhaul, the wisest and most successful enologists know that the benefits of replanting are far greater than the negatives.

I?m sure you?ve heard the clich?, like a fine wine I only get better with age. Well the same is true with grapevines to a certain extent. Their lifeline is actually somewhat similar to ours. A young vine can sometimes be noticed as producing overly earthy, herbaceous and green characteristics. Growers and winemakers know this and rarely include rookie vines in their blends until the grapes are ready. Practice is required to get adjusted to the new environment. Great exceptions to the rule are Zinfandel vines in California that exceed 100 years. The amount of the fruit they yield may be less than younger vines but the quality is unparalleled. There are also lots of old vine Garnacha (Grenache) & Tempranillo in Spain. It seems though that the most desirable age for the majority of vines is in the 20-30 yr old range. However a good winemaker knows how to utilize vines of all ages to produce the best wine made available to him. Wines are grown, not made!

The biggest assurance that the soil and the vine are working in unison is the place where they meet, at the root. The root has to be able to survive disease and louse threats. In the past there have been massive destructions to French and California vines which have wiped out entire wine growing regions. Luckily, those travesties have spurred us to produce genetically superior rootstocks that can be grafted to any vine. Coupling the right rootstock with the best varietal clone is a matter of science and experimentation. I think the best way to describe that in our lives is our search for Mr. or Mrs. Right. It takes a bit of science to find someone with an attractive genetic structure but it also takes quite a bit of trial and error to find the best match.

I think one big difference between us needs to be mentioned though, stress! There aren?t many people who enjoy it although there are some who work well under it. Too much stress for one person usually leads to a breakdown of some sort. Grapevines on the other hand produce their best fruit when they are distressed and famished. Too much water, too much sunlight, too many utopian like conditions and the fruit will be lackluster. A vine needs to dig deeper and deeper to seek out the nutrients that God?s wonderful earth has provided. This allows a vine to produce more intense and unique flavors. A good analogy is a spoiled child who when he/she gets to an independent age is still dependent upon mommy and daddy. If someone isn?t given the opportunity to grow on their own, all they might end up producing is ?sour grapes?.

All in all I didn?t expect to discover all these similarities when I first started down this road. It?s amazing to think how all living organisms are connected in one way or many more. This might even incite a bit of interest within you to find a deeper connection between us and everything else living. I certainly know it has for me.

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