Why you should want to know about winemaking

Why am I drawn to winemaking? 

This is a question I have asked myself on numerous occasions over the past nine years. The answers are manifold.

I am sure that part of the answer to this question is that winemaking connects me to my childhood and the hazy memories of my grandparents’ household, where I was first introduced to wine and winemaking.

I can recall, when I was no more than six or seven years old, that the trapdoor on my grandparents’ kitchen floor could be pulled open.

An adult would lift this door, as we kids stood waiting in enchanted anticipation.

My grandmother would be standing nearby at the stove, preparing gnocchi, torta, or polenta for the evening meal, watching as we kids climbed down the wooden stairs into the dimly lit basement. What we found, to us, was a sprawling labyrinth. Among other things, the space housed a full indoor bocce ball court and the remnants of a duckpin bowling alley. But other parts of the basement provided higher intrigue.

One such room in the labyrinth was sand covered, lined with half a dozen 59-gallon oak barrels filled with Zinfandel wine from California grapes. I suppose this romantic, formative memory provides the impetus for my obsession.

Searching for meaning : the Universal Appeal

I am a psychologist by profession and that certainly contributes to my habitual search for meaning in life’s everyday events. Not to mention, a bit of poetry.

Over the years, I learned that teaching and conducting research in a university setting and raising children in a household not only require patience, but also the wisdom to sometimes “go with the flow” and allow things to happen naturally, without micromanagement.

What do these career and family activities have to do with winemaking?

The simple fact is that everything necessary to make wine is present in its raw material. This is why wine is known as the essential symbol of transformation, both physical and spiritual. The power and meaning of wine comes from nature and from a natural process, not from the winemaker. The role of the winemaker is to assist in transforming this raw material from what it was to what it will become, and that can be glorious if the proper care and attention and skill are applied. This is also what teaching and mentoring students and raising your own children are all about; a transformative process that one can take great pride in being a part of, feeling fortunate that one is allowed to be a change agent, while all the while recognizing that many things in this creative process are beyond your control.

In a similar sense, the winemaking process is a valuable lesson in the transformative nature of life.

Just as the death of the grape is necessary for the birth of the wine, the death of one phase of life is necessary for a new phase to emerge and stimulate your senses and “center you in the moment.” There is no fault in recalling the sweetness of the grape, as long as this lingering memory does not close you to the experience and the wonder of the wine in your hand. It is with this respect for both the stages of life and learning that i approach wine and winemaking.

I have more questions than answers in all of these areas, which is the proper attitude to have in all journeys, don’t you think?