Romancing the grapes – posh plants or down and dirty agriculture?

I don’t know about you, but I never really thought about wine grapes and their vines as part of agriculture. In fact it sounds almost like a dirty word, when associated with wine. To me they weren’t a crop, like wheat, they were too posh for that. They were more like a seasonal delicacy, like asparagus or artichokes, something I enjoyed, but didn’t really pay attention to how it was grown. I just liked the taste.

I have always liked wine, well maybe not so much when I was younger, but as I grow older I appreciate it more and more. The taste of course, but also the variations, the vagaries and sometimes the sheer fun. Of course, living with a wine maker has given me a whole new perception. He has added to my level of knowledge immensely. And, I am still trying to decide if that is a good thing.

Gone are the days where I just tasted a wine and thought, yeah, nice. He’s taught me to really taste it. You know, all that rolling around in the mouth thing. Many laughs were had as I tried to learn to breathe in the wine whilst also tasting it. You can just imagine. But it was worth the various snorting messes I caused as, once I got the hang of it, it opened up whole new levels of taste. So, okay, that’s a good thing.

I knew moving to France to make our wine would change my perspectives, add to my knowledge, I just didn’t realise how much.   Gone are the days where I simply drank my wine, now I have intimate knowledge of where it comes from and how it is made. I have been roped in over the past couple years to help in our vineyard and winery, learning to prune, tuck in, and of course harvest, squish grapes and actually make wine. Well, maybe not the finer points, after all I am not a trained Oenologist like Pumpjack, but I get the gist.

In particular, one of the areas I do appreciate understanding better is the agricultural side, the vineyard if you will. The mystique that was wine has changed for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but I have got over the whole ‘posh’ thing that seems to be associated with wine. All it took was some very long hours of back breaking, get my hands dirty, build a few callouses work in our vineyard to knock over that pedestal.

And, although I may prefer to wear my rosy coloured glasses when it comes to wine tasting, I like the reality that is behind wine making. What is in affect an agricultural crop, one with a lot of potential, one of the few that people are actually willing to pay money for (well mostly), but like any crop one that can also hit hard times.

2016 will go down probably as a very bad year here in France, definitely as a very hard year. The rain has not stopped since, well, I can’t remember when. The odd sunny days amongst are lost in the mire of fog, frost, hail and mud. There was a deep frost on the 26th of April that hit us and has killed about 40 – 50% of our crop this year. Bud burst was just under way, when the leaves start to come out, and the frost hit, killing the new growth. And with the continuous rain it has not been possible to treat the vines against disease and mould, so even if the sun comes out we have a very real risk of losing more crop.

And one month later hail hit. We were lucky with our vineyard as it is lower down, thus warmer, but nearby Chablis was not so lucky, not to mention Champagne, Cognac, Beaujolais and other parts of Burgundy.

I remember in the past hearing on the news about hail devastating France’s vineyards, and didn’t truly pay much attention. Now, with my new found knowledge, I understand and have seen first hand the reality. Hail hits hard, it tears and strips the leaves off the vines. Without foliage, even broken foliage, the vines can’t produce the grapes, or what they may produce will have no protection from the elements, particularly the sun (should it come). They are in affect of no use. And it impacts not just on this year, but next.

So you see, although wine has its romance, and I am all for it, the industry lends itself to a harsh reality behind the label. The vagaries of nature determine whether this years crop will be good, bad or simply not at all. But it is this vagary that makes for the vast variety and thus interest in wine. And it might go a bit toward explaining why some wine is worth the price.


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