Without knowing me, you might think this blog is about my love of all things fermented. Things like beer (nope), and wine (not exactly), and sauerkraut (maybe). I understand. The name is a little misleading.
But The Winepress has nothing to do with fine merlot. I am alcohol ignorant. I’d never heard of cabernet sauvignon until I got married and I didn’t take my first drink until I was in my thirties. Honestly, until I learned that people can drink responsibly, I was afraid of the stuff.
So it might surprise you to learn that my best beloved and I just spent our anniversary in wine country—Sonoma Valley—because he does know a thing or two about wine. And among the apparently thousands of vineyards in northern California, he found one with our name on it: MacLeod Family Vineyards. Of course, we had to go there.
Because he loves wine and I have a Winepress and we are a McLeod family. Ta da.
We joined the wine tour already in progress—because I am the navigator and . . . oh, let’s leave it at that. Four other couples sat comfortably on hay bales as we arrived, surrounding a dungaree clad man lecturing from a plastic lawn chair. Mr. MacLeod himself, who took a barren hilltop thirty-seven years ago and transformed it into a fifty acre vineyard full of merlot, ladyfinger, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel grapes, to name only a few. He was fifty-six years old at the time.
That was my first lesson of the day. You’re never too old to follow your dreams.
“I never worked a day in my life after I planted this vineyard,” he told us. “That’s the trick—find the thing you love to do and it’ll never feel like work.”
I’d kind of been listening politely, holding the glass of rose (ros-ay) I’d been handed, spinning the stem casually like I knew what I was supposed to do with it when I was really thinking that 10:30 in the morning was awfully early to begin drinking and would he be offended if I didn’t like the stuff?
Suddenly I snapped to attention as he told us how the grapes have ‘a relationship’ with the vine tenders. “Are you listening?” I heard the Lord whisper to me.
I was. I remembered Jesus talking about grapes and branches and how He is the Vine in John 15. Somehow it came across as kind of a frightening passage, with all that talk about pruning every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about getting cut down to size.
Instead, I was about to learn the day’s second lesson. Pruning is not a punishment. It’s life giving.
“Pruning is one of the most important things done in a vineyard,” the old gentleman was saying. “Leave too many buds and there will be too much fruit for the vine to ripen properly.” I didn’t know there was such a thing as too many grapes. But there is. Get too greedy and you’ll wind up with a crop that won’t reach maturity.
Branch by branch, bud by bud. “. . . He Who started a good work in you (He) will carry it on to completion . . .” (Philippians 1:6) All the branch and grapes have to do is hang out and enjoy being attached to the Vine.
But Mr. McLeod was still teaching from his plastic lawn chair. “Grapes are sensitive,” he said. “When you know how to listen, the vines will tell you in a dozen different ways whether or not they’re happy. If you want to grow quality grapes you want to make sure that your vines are happy.”
And that was lesson number three. It’s a gift to be sensitive.
We don’t value sensitivity very much in our culture. Being sensitive is often seen as a weakness or, at the least, a handicap that needs to be overcome. There’s no place for sensitivity in a dog-eat-dog world.
I’ve been told most of my life that I’m too sensitive—I cry too easily, wound too readily, feel too deeply. But here sat a ninety-three-year-old man who told us that the key to excellent wine is the careful handling of sensitive grapes.
If it matters to the Vinedresser to keep his grapes happy, it must be all right if they are sensitive.
I drank some of the rose, walked through the sloping rows of vineyard, sampled a few dozen grapes right off the vine, and listened to the other guests with gifted wine palates extol the intricate flavors of three MacLeod wines at the tasting table.
But what I really learned on that shady hill in Sonoma Valley is that the Gardener loves His vineyard and His relationship with sensitive, dependent grapes.
I’ll drink to that.
Quotes reinforced by content from "Journey To Harvest" by George M. MacLeod, published by George and Greta MacLeod, copyright 2014