Have you noticed how young children are delighted and enthralled by things that adults barely notice? They see the world with fresh eyes and are constantly surprised and mesmerized by what surrounds them. Unlike adults, their present-moment thinking is not cluttered with past regrets or future deadlines; they live in the here-and-now. Wouldn’t it be great to regularly experience life in such a manner? Actually, there are periods in adult life where we are often “in the moment.” For example, think back to when you first fell in love. I’m betting that you were often very much in the moment and fully attentive to the object of your romantic passion.
What do these musings have to do with wine and winemaking? Well, consider when you first fell in love with wine. Was there a childlike wonder for what you were experiencing? Did this newfound passion keep you in the moment, much like a fresh romantic relationship? I can vividly recall 12 years ago when I first fell in love with winemaking. I had just tasted wine from my first kit, a relatively inexpensive Merlot that had fermented too quickly, at too high a temperature, but it was my wine and it tasted surprisingly good. My surprise and delight is accurately depicted in the wine label I made for that Merlot (see photo); it marked the beginning of my winemaking passion.
Likening winemaking to romance may be a stretch, yet I ask you to entertain the idea that your wine relationship is truly intimate. The dictionary defines intimacy as “a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, or period of history.” If winemaking is something with which you strongly identify, then I contend that you are indeed in an intimate relationship.
One of the truisms of life is that, over time, passions can fade, sometimes becoming well-learned habits that are too-often performed without proper attention. Like romantic partners who move past the infatuation stage into a “ho-hum” maintenance stage, winemakers too can become inattentive to the wonders that surround them. Yet it is also true that seasoned winemakers, like seasoned lovers, have an accumulated depth of knowledge about their heart’s desire that their younger selves lacked. Therefore, when attentive, those who have life seasoning of whatever sort can still experience “ah-ha” moments of astonishment similar to, but also different from, the simple joy of experiencing something with fresh senses and naive wonderment. These moments of astonishment are now built on a great deal of experience with the object of one’s attention, taking on a deep and affirming richness not possible without proper life seasoning. The best you can hope for is to recognize the opportunities for astonishment when they arise.
Knowledge and respectful attentiveness are crucial winemaking qualities. We winemakers understand that there is a direct line of transmission of care and respect for the winemaking process from the grapes in the vineyard to the wine poured into the glass. This is not an uncomplicated process; it requires close supervision for the finished wine to truly represent the nature of the grape. Mature winemakers understand that hard work, frustration, and disappointment occur in the transformative journey from grape to wine. Yet if we are attentive to the here-and-now and allow ourselves to listen to the heartbeats that surround us, passion and wonder will remain our occasional, yet long-term, companions both in winemaking and in life.