As the shelter-in-place order has stretched from weeks into months, I’ve had more time to work in our vineyard. We have one hundred pinot noir grapevines, all planted thirty-plus years ago. When we moved in, the yard and vineyard needed a lot of TLC. In the beginning, someone had laid out a beautiful plan, but over the years, busy owners didn’t have the time or interest to follow it. (Sound familiar?)
We knew nothing about tending vines. The first year, I relied on YouTube videos on how to prune. The second, we found a college vintner student. Unfortunately, he moved away. I tried to DIY the third year. Sigh. This year, a friend (Enrique) of a friend (Raul) who had managed one of the big winery vineyards for over thirty years came to offer advice and hands-on lessons. Hallelujah!! The first thing we did was a HARD pruning. I worked alongside Enrique as he cut away old and some new growth and sections of cordons. We had a truck load of debris. He said he’d check in at “bud break”.
While we waited, we mulched the entire vineyard. I wanted it clean and weed-free. We have clay soil. In the winter, the rows are a mucky mess of mud, followed by a season of thistles and weeds. When the rains slowed, I started pulling up thistles (and hired a hard-working college student (Javier) to help. The great thing about weeding after a rain – they come up roots and all!
Bud break came and I sent pictures to Raul and he sent them to Enrique. They said they’d be back when the shoots were 3-4 inches high. My job was to remove the suckers growing ground-level on the vines. (Great waist and back exercise!) When Enrique came, he was impressed with the vigor of the vines and clean rows. The shoots were 12-18 inches high and close together. Raul sprayed against mildew (a problem that had developed over the years of neglect). My job would be to thin the shoots. Oh, that was hard! Every shoot had tiny clusters of grapes. But my instructions were clear. There needed to be a fist-sized space between each shoot so that air and light could circulate. That meant removing 6-12 shoots from each vine. Most had small or partial grape clusters. I filled our large yard waste can with debris — and heaped three more loads in our big wheelbarrow! By the time I finished (in four days), I had to go back to the first row and remove suckers again. Next job will be removing “laterals” – shoots that sprout from a leaf joint and start another shoot, sapping the energy of the primary shoot.
Tending a vineyard is hard work, but I love it. Every time I go out there, I think about the many spiritual lessons. I want to share a few.
We are all going through a difficult time right now and may have even more difficult times ahead. Many of us are being pruned, and it’s painful. Sometimes we feel as though everything has been cut away, leaving us exposed and wounded. But, trust God, the bud break is coming. Tiny nubs of promise show and growth begins. Look for them. Because of the hard pruning, energy is flowing up powerfully within the vine to the branches (you). Those nubs become green shoots that grow rapidly. But not all are necessary. Some of what appears to be good growth needs to be cut away so that air and light can circulate in the branches. Fewer shoots develop better quality fruit. We have a “dry grow” vineyard. We don’t irrigate. The vines must sink deeper roots to get the water and nutrients God provides. The grapes will be smaller, but more intense in flavor. Dry grow grapes make finer wines.
What has been pruned from your life during this SIP time? Where do you see the nubs of promise showing up? Which shoots do you need to thin from your life in order to allow the highest quality fruit to come to harvest? Sink your roots deep into God’s Word, and the Lord will give you the strength to get through this hard time and instruct you in how to thrive in it, through it and in the days ahead.