Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Wine Maker's Spiritual Reflections

August, 2009. This month my wife, Ruth Meyers, and I moved from Evanston, Illinois to northern California and are now living near its Wine Country. Ruth had accepted a new teaching position as professor of liturgy in Berkeley at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP). I will re-build my spiritual direction ministry in this part of the country. Shortly after our move we needed to go to a memorial service for my Uncle Don in Arlington, VA. At a family gathering I met another of Don's nephew's who is friends with the owners of a vineyard in Sonoma County, Charles and Diane Karren. Since I'm an amateur vintner I was looking for any contacts with vineyard owners where I might get some wine grapes. I subsequently contacted Charles and he invited me to participate in a simple ceremony blessing the vineyard that the family does every year as harvest time approaches.

September 6. Ruth and I just returned from blessing a vineyard in Sonoma County--Terra de Promissio "The Promised Land." The owners are a lovely family and are generously giving me enough pinot noir grapes to make six or so gallons of wine under my new "Third Incarnation" wine and ale label. (More on the naming of my private label in a future entry.) Harvest time is likely to be late next week. Generosity of spirit and abundance permeated this time.
Lord of the harvest, bless Charles and Diane, their family, and all who work with them. Bless and protect this good earth and the vines and fruit of this vineyard. Protect all who labor at the harvest and may they all be justly and generously compensated for their work. We bless you and give you our thanks--you who are our Source, our creative Presence, and our true Life.

September 12-13. This was winemaking weekend. Harvested pinot noir grapes courtesy of Terra de Promissio vineyard in Sonoma County with the help of Charles and Sonya. Ruth and I de-stemmed and crushed over 12 gallons of grapes on all of Saturday. I pressed two gallons of must (grape pulp and juice) into about 1 1/3 gallons of blush and added special wine yeasts to both the blush and the 10 gallons of must for pinot noir red wine. This is a time of hard work, but also joy and anticipation.

September 16. I love the transformation process in winemaking. Primary fermentation is a very energetic time where the wine yeast begins the process of converting the grape juice and pulp (must) into wine at a rapid rate. This period lasts about a week and is the most intense time in the transformation process. It is quite sensual...the juice roils with the effects of the yeast. If you get close to the fermentation vat you might hear the sounds of the rapid release of carbon dioxide gas. You may see the plastic sheet cover of a vat billowing from the escaping gas. There's a rich yeasty smell that permeates the area. Heat is generated by the activity of change so I have to break up the "cap" or "hat" of pulp on the top of the must daily to allow the heat to dissipate in order to protect the yeast from dying out. I love this process of transformation ALMOST as much as I love the way the Spirit works in transforming our lives.

September 18. This morning when Ruth and I were praying our simple morning prayer devotional we read part of Matthew's version of the great (revolutionary) Sermon on the Mount in the fifth chapter. Jesus calls the crowd of listeners "salt of the earth" and 'light of the world." As I've been working on this wine and seeing the power of the tiny yeast cells and how it acts on the other elements it reminds me of the many times that Jesus used bread yeast or wine and vineyard metaphors. I can imagine him saying to us, "You are yeast for the realm of God! Be yeast in this world."

Later September 18. The yeast has been doing its work and now is the time to press the fermenting crushed grapes and rack both the previously pressed blush and the newly pressed red wine must into secondary fermentation containers. I have a little basket press and I put cheesecloth into the basket and enclose the grape pulp in the cheesecloth. The put the top of the press on the pulp in the basket and slowly turn the press--squeezing the red juice out of the pulp, down a chute, and into the secondary fermenter.
What came to me as I was pressing the grapes was that all of us at times experience pressures and demands. We feel squeezed by the stresses and strains of circumstances, obligations, uncertainties, and challenges that occur. These intense times are like primary fermentation and pressing. There are tough periods in life-- perhaps exciting, or exhausting, or but perhaps also pretty overwhelming. I know that this major relocation from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay area has been that way for me. It brings me down to my essence, like the pressing of grapes.
Although I don't have immediate recollection of that particular image in scripture, one that is used repeatedly for spiritual life in stressful circumstances is the refiner's fire that purifies the gold or silver.
But in one of the most beautiful of the psalms, in my opinion, it is written:
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thought from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go then from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
(Psalm 139:1-6, from the Book of Common Prayer p. 794)


A said...

Dear Dan,
Thank you for sharing with us this wonderful blog. Thank you also for inviting me to be part of this blessed week of new beginnings and new wine!

Our friendship in Christ reminds me, that just like wine, friendships also get better and better, with time, love and patience.

May God bless you and Ruth in your new home; may your continuing ministries bear long-lasting fruit, and may new friendships nurture you both, as you nurture us, your friends, with love that can only come through the One who creates, redeems and sanctifies this amazing creation of which we are blessed to be part. In peace, Al

Anonymous said...

It IS a wonderful blog, Dan. I have been using it for a bit of meditation - something that you taught me how to do. Of course, I am grateful the wine is turning out well - and will be eager to sample it in due time. jp