Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
I struggle to describe what this time of year feels like for a grape grower. You usually wake up in the morning in a state of panic: what am I picking today? how is the weather? how bad are the birds? are there any leaves left on my vines?
Then reality inevitably sinks in. Your grapes are off the vine and all you’re left with is an empty feeling of no longer being needed. This should lead to a long and relaxing winter, but all those nagging jobs that were left behind during the busy season are still staring you in the face. General clean-up, prepping the ground for winter, hilling up around vines, digging drainage ditches, and installing post and wire into newly planted fields are just a few of these tasks.
The working days are much shorter now and, frankly, so is my level of ambition. I always felt guilty about this annual lack of drive until just recently. I read a book entitled “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell on advice from my Uncle Don. It was a great read and I was struck by one chapter in particular that described the life of vineyard workers in Burgundy many years ago.
Gladwell quotes historian Graham Robb from his book “The Discovery of France”:
An official report in 1844 described the strange mutation of the Burgundian day-laborer once the harvest was in and the vine stocks had been burned: “After making the necessary repairs to their tools, these vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and eat less food.”
Human hibernation was a physical and economic necessity. Lowering the metabolic rate prevented hunger from exhausting supplies. After the Revolution in Alsace and Pas-de-Calais, officials complained that wine growers and independent farmers, instead of undertaking “some peaceful and sedentary industry” in the quieter season, “abandon themselves to dumb idleness.”
I laughed out loud when I read this because it hit so close to home. The context of this chapter is that we are very much a product of our cultural legacy. So I’m not to blame for my lethargic winter blah’s after all, chalk it up to those who came before me!