-- In which Wes wraps up harvest, gets ready to wrap up winemaking, and finishes the weekly Blog cycle and sums up 2009 in rare and interesting ways...
Year in the Vineyard, Week #30
The End of Harvest, AKA
'Killing the God'
Welcome to the final weekly installment of 'Year in the Vineyard'. Thanks to all who followed this story from start to finish. I believe each installment is still available on the winemakermag.com website, so fill in the gaps if you haven't read the whole story. I will also publish a monthly Blog on winemakermag.com the last week of Nov., Dec., January and February. Then, if all goes well, I'll fire up the weekly blogs again in March, 2010.
Thanks also go out to those at Winemaker Magazine that prompted me down this bloggy path. It's been a pain in the ass to have a weekly deadline at times, but it has helped discipline my writing and lead to some wonderful new relationships and contacts throughout the wine community and beyond.
By now you're probably wondering...what's up with the whole 'Killing the God' thing? What does that have to do with the end of harvest? It's actually very important, at least to me, and will provide an esoteric structure for this last weekly blog. We've talked a lot about growing grapes and making wine, and I'm going to write this last week's blog more like an epilogue or the title of a poem. Some of you will read on and wonder what the hell I'm drinking at 9 in the morning, and some of you may understand how amazingly connected all human ritual and spirituality are. Wine is a ritual of agriculture and it connects me to a tradition that stretches back before written history. This is where the thread begins...
In many parts of the ancient world, from South America to Africa to Europe, it was believed that dying a natural death (old age) left behind a feeble spirit. (Frazer, JG. The Golden Bough. Oxford University Press. 1994 Abridgement, pp 228-554) It was common to kill Kings, especially, in the prime of their youth, to assure that the spirit inside the people's ruler was still hale and strong. This archetype became ingrained indelibly in the religions of the world--human gods (or gods that were on earth in human form, which many cultures thought were their kings) were killed to prevent them from growing old and weak. Dozens of cultures in the ancient world would keep a king/king-god only for a year, and then ritually slaughter them and anoint a fresh King with the youthful blood of their successor. For example, the Zulus put their king to death the day he showed his first grey hair or wrinkle. (Interesting to note that when the great Zulu King Chaka discovered the British had hair dye, he asked a missionary to procure some of this magic potion to keep his neck safe from the machete's swift swing.)
Yeah, Wes, nice story. Where you going with this, dude?
This same spirit of life that ran in the youthful blood of kings, gods and men also existed in crops. The Old World, pre-christian agricultural rites of France and Germany persisted into the very beginnings of the 20th Century--mostly in remote areas unspoiled by Christianity's purifying influence. In the same way that the Native Americans believed that killing a buffalo was like killing a brother, and that without doing so with respect and grief would keep the buffalo herds from returning in subsequent years, European peasants believed that the spirit of the Earth (the Hearth Goddess of the Old Religion) existed in the crops they grew to eat. Whatever the crop, certain important rituals had to be observed on equinoxes, especially in Winter and Spring.
The Harvest festivals were very precise. As harvest commenced, it was believed that the spirit of the earth (the power that made crops grow like magic and sustained human agriculture and appetites), fled each stand of grain or vineyard as it was harvested (lest it be captured and manipulated). The whole Goddess' essence ended up concentrated in the last stand of wheat, the last gourd, the last unpicked crop in an entire community. That last bit of fruit or grain was harvested with a most solemn ritual--usually with a silver sickle or the like. Of course, to a modern audience, it may seem whimsical that a God/Goddess was believed to exist in the last bit of unharvested crop--but to these people these dramatic representations of the natural processes that they were trying to facilitate were as important and powerful as any modern Church service. Man had not discovered soil science, microbiology or plant nutrition. We were ignorant and made due. And some of the rituals performed were beautiful expressions of mankind's gratitude to the natural world.
As the concentrated, fleeting spirit of the Hearth Goddess was captured in the last stroke of harvest, that tiny bit of grain (or what have you) was lovingly crafted into a human effigy and ritually slaughtered and buried in the fields to assure that the spirit of the Goddess went back to the spirit realm with all the vigor with which she arrived. Her corpse would lie in the decay and cold of Winter, and then rise renewed to bring the Spring seeds to life. It's a beautiful story, and one plagiarized in the New Testament, when Jesus is killed as a young man to assure he was never seen as feeble or weak. The emotion and meaning of Jesus' flailing (like grain harvest), death (cutting the fruit from the vine, as shown in Byzantine paintings of the Crucifixion) and resurrection (like the crops bursting through frosty, Spring ground) all rely on our early agrarian ritualistic beliefs...the two myths emanate from the exact same archetype. Odd that Christianity was so hateful and murderous to those of the old nature religions, as the story of their own savior was respun from the ancient, repressed threads of their earth religion. A good story never dies.
So, it was with a great amount of emotion and respect that I clipped the last cluster from Clos Pepe today, held it in my hand, ate one berry, buried a second, and then threw the remainder into the picking bin for AP Vin. Ceremony needed to respected, but the fruit was already sold, and I wouldn't offer more than a berry or two to the ghosts of agriculture past. ( I also like to think that a grape can be ritually slaughtered and resurrected into a spirit by my personal savior, yeast...) I will admit, though, that ritual does seem to guide my heart to a quiet place, an easier place, where life seems understandable. It was just a single berry going into the soil, but it represented an entire year of toil and labor, a year of my life I sacrificed for the wine and the vine. That seed will always be under the dirt, unless it germinates and grows a baby vine. A miracle? Maybe.
That was a really long introduction to a very simple statement: harvest is over. The vineyard is picked clean and Cesar is on the tractor (I can see him on the hill right now out my window) cultivating the vine rows to start drilling cover crop seed tomorrow.
It's been a fantastic year. The wines in barrel are balanced, rich and delicious and it seems all of our clients are happy with their fruit. I want to end the year with a series of photos from the entire year of farming to see how far we've come.
For those of you who won't be able to function properly without a weekly dose of Wes (you may want to seek medication for that affliction), I will be starting a blog over at wordpress.com where I'll write shorter blogs on Wine, the World and Everything. It can be found here: http://weshagen.wordpress.com/ And of course, I'll keep blogging on the vineyard at least once a month until we start this whole thing up again. We'll see how my ritual worked when I see next year's crop! Cheers!
Photo Essay: Birth of a Vintage: Pinot Noir Clusters 2009: (Mouse-over pic for info)
Last Day of Harvest: 10/21/09
Photos by Jeremy Ball (Photography by Jeremy)
Thanks for following the journey and we'll see you all next month for an update!