The Poetry of the Vineyard

September 17, 2015

When I think of wine and what I know about it, I think of the whale. That the whale, the largest of creatures, travels the vastness of the oceans to find sustenance in the smallest is interesting. Her journey through the seas is a continuum of experience. Time passes in the deep.

So is the world of wine to us, vast as an ocean.

My earliest encounter with French culture was the poetic voice of “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” I studied the Celts in history class. I took five years of French in high school, cultural background for an appreciation of French wine. In France, vineyards are sacred groves, protected, tended by man but largely left to nature.
Irrigation here is rare. Vines grow where they belong. France’s ban on fracking leaves the geology of the vineyard undisturbed, preserving the water, the rocks and the hills that make a beautiful wine region like Burgundy what it is. Wine experts pore over contour maps detailing appellations and cross-sections of geology in vibrant colors. Wine nomenclature is all about where the vines grow.

Each taste offers direct enjoyment of all the elements that happen in that particular place in the world where vines grow, the fruit of an entire season. A sip of Champagne excites the sense of taste. Wine stimulates us to experience the plate and the evening before us. This is how wine works, like a walk in the woods, away from secondary experiences, putting us back into nature, transporting us to the vineyard. The reality of wine is its poetry; its poetry is its reality.

Wine presents the opportunity of a gathering. The experience of a glass over dinner opens us up, bringing us together. Customs stand the test of time. Traditions are kept. There is participation, the human element. A longtime customer shows me a menu of his dinner with the Chevaliers du Tastevin preserved from 1964 as we sip from a Clos Vougeot. A hard-working economist arrives at the bar after a long day and I know what to pour him as he raises the menu. From observing such traditions, as a Melvillian anthropologist, I have learned as much about wine as anywhere else.

Summer wanes. The season of true unrushed Provence rosés with light fare, fresh produce, soft-shell crab and salads slows as we enjoy the last of the 2014 vintage at the restaurant. And across the Northern Hemisphere, harvest time of the 2015 vintage approaches, the tannins rising to protect the fruit as it ripens, a new yield of nature’s balance. The pains of summer sunburns pass, into a gentle itch.

But what do I know about wine? I know roughly what I like. That’s why I keep tasting, like the whale, as I weather and pass the seas of life. With that I’ll leave you to it, and bow to the wine expert you have within, fully equipped, ready for your own experiences, in whichever direction you go.

Ted Putala is the author of the novel “A Hero For Our Time.” He writes a blog, D.C. Literary Outsider.