Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why do I read about wine?

Why do I read about wine? I have no idea. I just do. First it was a book on the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out the French vineyards in the late 1800s. I read it because it was epidemiology, but on plants. Like all epidemiology stories put in book form, it was a fascinating and true mystery, only heavy on the science and light on the "true crime" (since nature was the criminal).

This time, I was reading "Shadows in the Vineyard," about a sophisticated extortion attempt pulled off by a couple of unsophisticated Frenchmen against the greatest vineyard in the world. Except it was really a book about what makes a great Lord of the Vineyard (they call them vignerons in the book--masters of the vines). The crime was kind of secondary. Or even tertiary. And, having never even tasted wine, that was way down on my list of important things in the book.

It was a great portrait of an interesting man, especially.

But it was also a book that contained some insights that I found important.

First, the portrait of the man pointed out that the greatest vineyard in the world is tended by a gentle, brilliant man who treats the vines carefully, doing for them each individually (and he knows his vines individually) what will help them produce the best possible grapes.

There is, apparently, a cliche in the French vineyards:  "The more a vine struggles, the stronger the vine, the sweeter the grapes, the better the wine."

Given that, the vignerons will plant the vines in challenging circumstances--a little closer together than you'd guess, for instance, so they have to make their own way and struggle to grow.  Why? It makes them stronger, and their fruit is better.

And they do this on purpose, with full knowledge that it's harder for the vines, and that they might not produce what looks to an outsider like a great harvest. But the result is better grapes, even if they don't look giant and abundant, and grapes that are more suited to perfect wine (which, granted, I don't understand at all by way of experience, but in theory I get).

Further, the vignerons know that perfect wine doesn't come from the grapes alone. It comes from what they call terrior: the interaction between the right kinds of vines and the soil they are planted in. Not all kinds of grapes grow nicely in all kinds of soil, and the soil actually imparts character to the grapes and therefore the wine. To have a perfect wine, you have to carefully marry the vines to the exact right soil, and the cultivate them carefully, forcing them to struggle so they'll grow strong. And then even then the vines have to be coddled and cared for--and then they last and produce grapes for 350 years or more.

The vignerons love their vines and call them their enfants and treat them like their own children, focusing on tending to and caring for the vineyard to get the best wines--quality being valued over quantity. They are in the vineyard, walking among the vines constantly, very much in touch with all that goes on there.

Reading about that, I couldn't help but think that we are vines, and Jesus is a master vigneron:  he loves each of us vines perfectly, and knows us well, and he carefully selects the right soil for us to grow in and then doesn't rescue us from our struggles--but is always there, tending to the vineyard and keeping his eyes and hands on us to intervene if necessary, but letting us struggle so that we can be strong, so that our fruit can be sweet and our wine good.

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