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Sunday, August 15, 2010

In Vino Veritas

"When I find someone I respect writing about an edgy, nervous wine that dithered in the glass, I cringe.  When I hear someone I don't respect talking about an austere, unforgiving wine, I turn a bit austere and unforgiving myself.  When I come across stuff like that and remember about the figs and bananas, I want to snigger uneasily.  You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant.  After that, watch out... ." —Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking
   It will be easier for me to write about wine, since I neither know enough about it, nor have the vocabulary, to be pretentious. But I know a bit more about it that I used to.
   Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with my best friend from my sophomore and junior year of high school. It was only two years, but the friendship was held fast by a common love of music, and especially guitars.
   We were pleased to find ourselves easing into our relationship as if the 38 intervening years were but a few. We even did some songs together (he plays piano now, and I cannot hit the high notes that were so easy in the day).
   Tim is a winemaker, and a vintner. Two years ago, he retired from thirty-seven years with the U.S. Navy, both active duty and civilian. He built a house on some old family land near Crossville, Tennessee (and far from cell service). There he planted a vineyard.
   While the vineyard is his first, he has been making wine for several years. And every one of his wines has won awards—many firsts, many blue ribbons. The only prize to elude him is Best of Show. But it is only a matter of time.
   Spending nearly two days with him, I drank more wine than I ever have in so short a span (five bottles between us), ate like a king (he cooks like Emeril) and learned a little about winemaking.
   Malcolm Dunn, a gardener to royalty, once said grapes are "the most noble and challenging of fruits." A vintner/winemaker is a person of many talents. He is of course a gardener. And a very patient one. Most vines spend two years of growing and pruning before they are ready to bear wine-worthy fruit. Then they are trained to hang uncrowded and orderly on the trellises. As the fruit matures in the late summer or early fall, the vintner becomes a chemist, frequently checking the acidity, pH and sugar content of the grapes. Once the numbers line up, the grape clusters are cut off the vine (the one act that takes very little time). White grapes are pressed immediately and the juice is left to ferment in large bins. Red grapes are crushed along with their seeds, skin and stems, and go through primary fermentation as a mush. Then it is strained and put into oaken casks, where it ages. I did not know that red wine gets its color from those seeds and skin, since all grape juice is white.
   Seeing the process first-hand, passages such as John 15 come alive:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
   It is Tim's careful tending that makes the difference between a fruitful vineyard and a field full of weeds. So it is with me—it is God's faithful, meticulous caring and pruning that makes my life fruitful, and a testimony to the Master Vintner. 
   The Romans had a saying: In Vino Veritas. In wine, there is truth. 
[UPDATE-01/03/11]: My friend Tim recently got high-speed internet (I told you it was waaaay out in the sticks), and as such, looked at Words of Wayne for the first time. After reading the above post he wrote with some comments and corrections, which I am posting in a separate post on this day—1/3/11. I do so because it points out the incorrect info was my fault (and the five bottles of wine, of course). And it's fascinating.

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