Working on the Vines at Hickory Hill Vineyards

Vineyard Log, Summer 2018

At its most fundamental, a vineyard is an orchard, but it is also bringing art to life. The vines chosen to grow. How the vines are grown. When they are thinned and suckered and tucked and pulled and pampered, watered, babied all affect the ultimate child of the vine: the grape. If you are the culmination of everything that has brought you to this very point in your life, then so is the vigneron to the wine you sip.

A person can make music, and music is art. A person can paint or craft a violin or a solder a chandelier, and it will be considered art. Crafting the slowly growing canes of a vine up into the wires, suspended by the poles, the track of the sun carefully considered, the irrigation rigorously monitored, the treatments for diseases and pests consummately balanced with the pure product desired, all of this makes wine grapes the faktura of wine; the expression of art in its making.

A musician will practice several pieces of music repeatedly throughout their musical career. Some will be practiced standards that have become old friends, some will be the half-forgotten old piece that requires liquid-wrench to break the rust off and recall, along with a few apologies. Such is the practice of the vigneron in the vines.

At first, a new vigneron is consumed by the choices presented and obsesses over the right technique for this or that task upon the vine. A full vineyard to such a neophyte is an endless ocean surrounding them, overwhelming them. Drowning them in work.

Continual practice and a good instructor, like a music teacher, can start to push the students thinking decisions into the subconscious execution. The metronome of the vines is the seasons, however, and whether the student gets it right or fumbles at the notes, it tocks on unstoppable.

Now, after decades of vineyard work, I find my life has reversed. Things have slowed down. I am no longer the student, but there is no one to teach. So I will practice my labor of the day, whatever song the season has chosen or the vine as begged for me to perform for it. The vine rows are long and flowing, much like the surf of the shoreline of a beach. Your hands flow, like a paintbrush here, like a sculptor’s blade there. Like a weaver’s loom, the various strings are plucked. You do not simply work the plants, you play them like an instrument. Only together are you going to make music, make art.

As I said, vines are an orchard, but they are not as tall as trees. Like a shoreline, above the vines the sky is revealed in height and breadth all around you. A giant canvas displayed for your amusement. And the clouds and sun provide the pallet.

It is also like a shoreline, for you are the crab. You see, vigneron’s walk sideways to work, step after sidestep. Snip snip.

So we play musical vines along the grape shoreline, and the practiced motions have now become the subconscious mundane, and you can watch the sky. You are often working in what others call a relaxed vacation, alone with the vines stretching into the distance around you, and the sky stretching away into the distance above you, and you and the grapes play little pavans to slivers of a moon.

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