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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Art of Winemaking and Writing

From Vines to Wines

Courtesy of - roholt
I got this title from a book by Jeff Cox, which I am reading for my research. My new novel takes place in part on vineyards in Tuscany and California. I recommend the book to anybody interested in finding out more about the fascinating process of winemaking.

I love wine, particularly red wine, but also some whites. I am a very moderate drinker, one or two glasses occasionally with a meal, that’s all I can tolerate. But I do enjoy the taste. A glass of good wine makes a simple meal special. So, it wasn’t a great surprise when the topic of wine and vineyards were beginning to sneak into one of my novels, my WIP.  

The more I read about the growing of grapes and the making of wine the more I realize what an amazing process it is, one that extends over many years. It’s a fascinating and risky undertaking and much can go wrong. Like with other types of farming, bad weather at a crucial time in the growth stage of the vines and grapes can ruin a harvest. Pests are a constant threat. Even in ideal conditions—such as the excellent climate in California, for instance—a bountiful harvest is no guarantee. I think it is a gift from the gods (or God, whatever your choice of belief).

The process begins by choosing the right place for the vineyard. Then comes the preparation and testing of the soil, the building of the trellis, the selection and planting of the proper grapes, followed by thinning, pruning, fertilizing and so on and so on. And once the grapes are ripening, a new cycle begins. Grapes are harvested and the winemaker can begin to show his artistry.

From the little reading I have done and from my yet limited observation, I gather that making wine is both an art and a science and involves the joint effort of Mother Nature and the ingenuity and care of women and men.

There is a lot of snobbery around wines, mainly encouraged by some consumers. The men and women who do the actual work and who cultivate the land and make the wine are hardworking people who love their craft and are passionate about it.

Making a good bottle of wine takes time, many years of working, waiting, and praying. Waiting is a rare art in today’s fast-paced world. Everything needs to be “right now.” We don’t like to wait. But the grapes don’t care and the fermentation takes time and can’t be rushed. Too much manipulation from winemakers can ruin a good wine. Waiting—a truly lost art.

Writing a good book takes time, too. In the era of independent publishing and eBooks and websites and blogs, I often hear the advice: write as many books as possible and write them fast or you’ll miss the boat.

Okay, so I’ll take the next one.

There are some unusually talented writers who can crank out several quality books a year. They are few and far between. Most of us need time to write, to gather our thoughts, to let our creativity simmer or, in winemaking terms, to let the story ferment, bubble, and rise.

I dedicate this post to the artists and writers and to the lovers of wine, but in particular to my father, who taught me to appreciate wine in moderation, to my mother who acquired a taste for wine late in her life and enjoyed one glass of red wine with dinner every night, and to my father-in-law, who learned to appreciate wine during a trip through Europe and with whom I shared a glass whenever I visited him.

Enjoy your wine, but remember this quotation from Eubulus on the consumption of wine (which I found in From Vines to Wines by Jeff Cox):

"Three bowls only do I serve for the temperate:
one for health, which they empty first;
the second for love and pleasure;
and the third for sleep.
When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home.
The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence;
the fifth to uproar;
the sixth to drunken revel;
the seventh to black eyes;
the eighth is the policeman’s;
the ninth belongs to billiousness;
and the tenth to madness and hurling the furniture."
- Eubulus (circa 375 B.C.)
Cheers, Prosit, Zum Wohl, Salute, Salud, Kampai!