[This next guest post comes from one of the many vineyards that Nova Scotia has to offer. If you haven’t had an opportunity to try local wines, a drive out to the Valley or other areas in this province makes for a great road trip where you can sample lovely wines and local produce. Remember to enter the contest this week to win some great items donated by the guests. Leave a comment here or tweet about your fave East Coast beverage using the hashtag #ECBC. Check out the full contest rules and prizes.]
There’s something very satisfying about planting a grape vine. You dig a hole, place the vine, and fill it back up again. It’s that simple. But over the course of its lifetime, that vine will grow to produce hundreds of bottles of wine. That’s a good feeling.
When Kimberly (@AliasGrace) asked me if I was interested in writing a guest blog, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to convey my philosophy about wine in more than 140 characters or on the meagre space of a back label. I spent weeks in the vineyard mulling over all the interesting and witty things I could write and, in the end, my philosophy would have fit in a single “tweet” – with 112 characters to spare, in fact.
Philosophy in action
My philosophy is pretty simple, really: wine growing should be dirty.
It doesn’t sound like much of a philosophy, and maybe it’s not, but it’s definitely true. From start to finish, it is a dirty process. Imagine how dirty you would get if you had 10,000 plants to tend to in your backyard garden. My clothes look like Jackson Pollock had at them with wine…Baco, Foch, Chard…If I get home from work and don’t need a shower, it probably hasn’t been a very productive day.
All that to say, it is easily forgotten that the wine you enjoyed with your dinner this evening is an agricultural product, born in a vineyard. There are companies that do a very good job of obscuring that fact, making wine look fabulous and luxurious with beautiful super models in evening gowns sipping Champagne out of Riedel stemware. Not a hint of dirt. But that’s marketing, not wine growing.
I have been lucky enough to work in and visit a number of the world’s best wine regions and, without fail, the best wines are those that are crafted. I don’t mean “crafted” in the worn-out, full-page-Wine-Spectator-ad version of the term, but in the truer, dirt-under-your-fingernails, sense.
You hear the phrase “great wines are made in the vineyard” tossed around quite a lot and, honestly, nothing could be more true. Making a great wine requires patience, understanding, and attention to detail. Great wines should embody their terroir, what we in North America have started to call somewhereness. Great wines not only tell the story of where they come from, but of the winegrower who crafted them. You cannot “cookie-cutter” a great wine, it’s not paint by number, and no two vintages are alike.
You have to treat every vine like an individual, nurture it, and respond to its particular needs. And this takes a lot of work – pruning, trimming, plucking and thinning.
The whole process, the effort, is wonderfully rewarding.
Yes, vineyards can be horribly muddy. There are many, many bugs that inhabit them. Spiders cleverly spin their webs across the rows and I always seem to dismantle them unintentionally with my face. Birds sometimes poop on me. Lately, I’ve even been spending my mornings escorting unenthusiastic raccoons to their new home in the lovely Lumsden Dam Provincial Park.
When the harvest starts, wasps flock to the crush pad in swarms – I get stung a few times each season. Grape juice is sticky. During vinification – with all that pressing, pumping, punching and racking – I get covered in wine. My hands get so purple and black that I’ve actually had people ask me if I was a mechanic. Does petrol come off with lemon juice, I wonder?
Wine growing is filthy, but – to the perpetual bewilderment of my girlfriend – that’s why it’s so much fun!
Here in Nova Scotia, we have great wines. I’ve only been home a few months now, and I’m still out there discovering them. Our winegrowers work hard to grow the best grapes they can and are actively shaping the industry by experimenting with sites, varietals, and clones. They are excited and passionate about what they do and you can taste that somewhereness in their wines.
And, you know what else? They all end up getting dirty.
Simon Rafuse (@simonrafuse) is associate winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery and manages a vineyard in the Gaspereau Valley. He lives in Gaspereau with his partner Emilie and Ruffles the cat.