The overlooked season of the vine…
In the seasonal cycle of the vine, Spring is accompanied by understandable excitement. It’s flowering, it’s bud break, it’s rebirth, when the vine comes out of dormancy and all that’s green is gold (Thank you, Gerard Manley Hopkins). Old gnarled dead and decapitated wood blossoms with life and color and vigor. The force through the green fuse drives the flower (Thanks, Dylan. No, not that one. The other Dylan.)
Early summer is a time of liveliness, when the vine explodes up and out of the earth and reaches for the sky. Then reaches back down to hug the ground, if it can, gravity being what it is, and the vine being what it is. What will be grapes are tiny little green berries, like clusters of buckshot hidden within the burgeoning foliage, uninteresting to anyone as yet, even the vine.
Late summer is the magic of veraison, when the vine shifts from leaves and expansion to fruit and contraction. For the vine, it’s propagation. For the winemaker, it is the final precursor to wine. The hard green berries flush and ripen and take on shape and color. They hang heavy on the vine, with promise of pleasures to come. Pregnant with promises, one might say (groan).
Then it is harvest time, when the supple branches lignify, turning brown and stiff, like old bones, and the leaves begin to curl and thin and droop and wither, and all that’s left of life force goes into those fat and glistening grapes. And it’s dash and fervor in the vineyards. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Get it all in. Quick. Check those sugars. Again, again. When do we pick? Look at the sky; does it feel like rain to you? Is it a good year? So far, I mean? We can’t wait any longer. Can we wait a little longer? Let’s pick.
But when the passion and fury of harvest and crush subsides, when the must is in the tank and barrel, the vineyards are forgotten, an afterthought.
The still, quiet vineyards take on a different beauty though. Silent, shorn of fruit, they are at their most colorful and variegated when their arteries begin to harden, all mustard and russet and pumpkin orange leaves in the last flair of life, bare scabrous vines and forlorn branches with gnarled, arthritic fingers below and spidery, leaf-lorn canes above, rattling in the wind.
It’s a somber time in the vineyards, this time of dormancy and death and winter’s sleep, when the days are shorter and sunlight scarcer, when skies are gray and heavy with the promise of the long rains to come. But even as the vines die their colorful little deaths and the rains come, the ground quickens and greens in contrast, for the long summer drought is over and ‘golden’ California becomes lush again. The dry, dusty soil becomes spongy and resilient again underneath and around the old skeletal vines and earth recharges itself.
And so a new season of the vine begins.