This past week, while discussing with my tasting room staff the ability of plants to sense things invisible to the human eye, we also addressed human and plant emotions. Someone asked if the vines got mad when we harvest the fruit from them year after year. No, I don’t think the vines become angry. Bewilderment might be a better term for this situation. I truly believe the vines must wonder what we are doing and why we are doing it, yet year after year the vines produce the fruit we yearn for.
In essence, perhaps, they trust us. And in return I must earn that trust. I have learned that a part of earning this trust is to give back what I take. As I have done this over years our farm has become a peaceful place to grow and make our wine. The spring summer and fall months are easy times to present the vineyard with tidings of appreciation in the form of blooming cover crops, compost teas, and other preparations honoring the unseen in nature. But in the cold of winter the gifts seem more austere and most times consist of a meditative walk through the vines appreciating the beauty they present through the subtleness of nature.
One day this week, a fog had been softly laying over the vineyard and the surrounding farm fields all morning and well into the afternoon. To the west there was the smallest break in the sky where a glimmer of yellow sun was visible making the fog below it seem almost silver. Nothing moved. The vineyard had paused, another layer of quietude upon the steady dormancy of winter.
I took a walk in the vines and enjoyed this ephemeral moment: the sienna colored canes, the charcoal black trunks and the sound of the geese flying over hidden by the fog. As I walked down a row of vines droplets of condensed vapor clinging to the tendrils surrounded me and caught the gray light. It was as if thousands of little glowing sculptures were glistening everywhere in the vines. I then remembered what I would be doing today, January 6th.
This is a special day for some farmers to honor the work the land and the plants have done this past year and to acknowledge the unseen and unproved forces that work within nature. This day is when we give the vines the greatest gift that can be given: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Reminiscent of the ancient gift kings gave to other kings to honor them, these three substances are symbolic of the elements of nature we have let prosper here on this tiny 20 acres of earth. The gold reflects deep molten earth, the frankincense speaks of air, life, and the living, and the myrrh honors the otherworld we know so little about. I have ground the gold, frankincense and myrrh into a powder and as I sit here stirring it in snowmelt the perfume from the frankincense and myrrh is heady, making the whole room smell of it. At sundown as we walk the perimeter of the vineyard we will give safe haven to the elemental spirits that give form to our vines and our wine.
It is comforting to look back in time to the ancient tradition of gifting to the kings and to bring it now to the vineyard… letting Mother Nature know that she is King.
Barbara Shinn owns and operates Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, NY with her husband David Page. Barbara is the viticulturalist and agronomist at the estate.