The Attractions of Viticulture

farmer in the vineyardViticulture requires lots of technical know-how, efficiency, and a capacity for physical labor. But it also requires something like aesthetic sensitivity—a capacity for fine-grained perception and an ability to relate those perceptions to the larger goal of making good wine.

Variations in weather throughout the year as well as variations in soil and topography between vineyards and within vineyards mean that grape farmers have to train their senses to spot problems early or to know when and how to prune, position shoots, and thin the crop. The color of the foliage, how the earth feels when handled, the taste and aroma of the fruit, and the behavior of organisms all require sensory acuity. To know when a vineyard should be harvested requires the ability to judge a variety of factors and weigh them against each other as well as comparing those factors with information from previous years. To be a competent perceiver is essential to successful viticulture.

There is also an emotional context to farming. The conflicts between what a farmer hopes for and what nature gives is the source of a variety of emotional responses, as is the effect of labor on the body which has its own kind of emotional impact and links the story of the vineyard and the land with the personal story of the wine grower.

If a wine grower were to look at the land only as a source of income or profit there would be no aesthetic appreciation. But many wine growers don’t look at it in that way. They enjoy the fertility and beauty of the land, the weather when it cooperates, and the quality of the work that she and her crew have completed, all of which yield insights into the relation between culture and nature. And all forms of agriculture yield insight and emotional responses to the wildness of nature. Farmers experience the wildness of nature more intensely than other nature lovers because the farmer is confronted with it and must struggle with it. Storms, fires, drought, frost, and destructive wildlife are a constant threat. Wild things are not enjoyed; they are feared which is fundamental to what it means to be wild.

We too often think of farming as a purely instrumental pursuit where the finished product is all that matters. Perhaps for some farmers it is, especially industrial farming. But the sensory experience, emotional responsiveness, and insight into wine and nature mean that viticulture offers a rich aesthetic experience that is one of the attractions of viticulture.

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