This last Sunday we had a pressing engagement – with a vat of Zinfandel grapes we had crushed more than a week before. Crushing the grapes is the first step in
transforming grapes into wine. Pressing is the second step. Wine-making is something Brad and I have done as a hobby for several years now. In that time, I’ve learned that it takes a lot of time to make wine well, and it takes commitment to the process. I’ve learned that carelessness and impatience will ruin the wine and lay waste to all the work that has gone before.
All of this got me to thinking about transformations, and wine-making as a metaphor for our lives. Good wine comes from careful work, attention, and time. The transformation from grapes to wine begins with the grape vines that must grow and mature for a few years before the first grapes are ever harvested for wine. Our Zinfandel grapes came from vines that are 70 years old.
Patience, Care and Adversity Yield Better Results
Grapes yield their most flavorsome wine when grown under adversity. In spring the plants begin to grow and thrive in the warmer weather. The leaves form and grow, and then the clusters begin to form and the grapes grow. Grape flavors intensify under full sun in a moderately hot climate with sparse rain. It’s stressful for the plants, but it’s necessary. Not every grape cluster makes it to maturity. The grape grower prunes away some of the clusters from the plant so that the remaining clusters can flourish.
Clusters are picked by hand. In our case, they are then shipped to us in New Jersey, where we crush them, removing grapes from the stems and tearing open the grape skins to expose the juicy pulp and the seeds. The juice is measured for sugar content and acidity, then yeast and other ingredients are added and the fermentation process begins.
By this past Sunday, what 10 days earlier had been sweet juice had already turned to young wine. Sunday, we pressed the grapes to separate the juice from the skins and seeds, and transferred the wine into an oak barrel for the long process of aging. In winter we will remove the wine, clean the barrel of sediment, and return the wine to the barrel. Next summer we will bottle it and then let it rest and age for several more months. And, 24 months from the time we started, it will be mature enough for us to drink with friends and family.
What’s Good for Wine is Good for Us, Too
Similarly, we start off life as sweet young things who eagerly embrace life. We experience stress as we grow. We fear we may not have enough, yet often find we receive just what we need at just the right time. We thrive, in spite of adversity. We prune away habits and beliefs that hold us back so that we may enjoy a fuller and richer life.
We may have a period when we believe nothing much is happening in our lives, only later to discover it was a time of preparation for something bigger and better.
Later in life, we may look back and make sense of some of those hard times we’ve experienced, and realize how they helped to transform us from what we were, to what we are today. And that we are better for it.
At long last, when wine is ready to drink, the bottle is opened, and the contents shared with many who enjoy it together in a time of fellowship. Together we savor the flavor, marvel at its nuances, delight in subtle taste changes brought about by fresh oxygen.
At the end of the evening, when we have been transformed by our time together, and our hearts are happy and our bodies are tired, some one will nod towards the empty bottle and lament that it has been spent. And while the wine itself is gone, the memories made through the sharing of the wine and the time together will live on in the hearts and minds of all who shared in it.
Just as it should be.
You’ll want to have your sound on and use the full-screen mode for this short walk in the vineyard.