Archive for the ‘Into the Vineyard’ Category

Why Terroir Matters

Or something.

Or something.

What? you say. Terrier? No, terroir. And it isn’t a canine.

Let me explain.

In Sonoma County, where I am blessed to live, 60,000 acres of vineyards flow over hillsides and along valley floors, acre upon acre, in perfect symmetry.

For me they are a constant reminder of John 15: I am the true Vine. I understand this to mean that He is the rootstock.

There is mystery of Word and Spirit in plant and process.

And everything matters in the vineyard.

I think about this as I head out through the Dry Creek Valley. Now, in early February, the last leaves are falling from the vines and microscopic critters in the soil are consuming them away.

Pruned vineyard blocks stand bare and tidy and uniform.

Recently, a woman came into the winery where I work and, with a look of concern, said, “The vines look all dry and dead. Are they okay?”

Granted, unpruned blocks look like a host of crazy aunties with their thin, hair-like branches reaching wildly in all directions. Or, as writer David Darlington puts it: “like a collection of fright wigs.”

Are you okay?

Are you okay?

Dry Creek is one of 13 appellations in our county. These are smaller regions with their own – here we go – terroir (tare-wah), a nice French word for the combination of:

  • soil composition
  • day and night-time temperatures
  • amount of rainfall
  • angle of the sun

These characteristics are specific to each appellation.

Terroir is the sum total of natural influences brought to bear on a vineyard in its particular location. The farmer does everything in his power to cooperate with those influences. Why? Because those unique qualities are revealed first in the fruit, then in the glass.

Understanding this, I want to cooperate with God, here where I am planted:

(Oops. Left behind.)


  • submitting to pruning as the only way to maximize my potential
  • understanding that drought or flood or loss will ultimately make me stronger and more resilient
  • acknowledging that the soil and temperature and rain and sun are working together to make me both unique and useful

It might be hard to see in the stripped-bareness of winter as the vines go to sleep. But all things are working together for good.

The vines are okay.

Do you have a good understanding of where you are planted – and why?


Why This is My Year of the Vine

2014There it is. Your brand new calendar for 2014.  All those little squares of pristine days, weeks, months waiting to receive the details of your life.

There’s your journal with its bright, blank pages ready to receive your thoughts on your life.

And if you have read through the One Year Bible, then the fantastic, apocalyptic language and visions of the Revelation are still ringing in your heart:

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’

Ah, the New Year. And how fitting that it occurs just as winter has stripped the trees bare and the world stands stark and rather naked. Exposed. It invites us to do the same. Figuratively speaking, of course. (Did I really need to qualify that?) Decumulate, shed, reduce.

Here in Sonoma County, where I live, there are over 50,000 acres planted to vineyards. I became interested in this world some years ago. As a student of the Bible, I was fascinated by the way vineyards and the fruit of the vine appeared in Scripture from Genesis through the Last Supper through the Book of Revelation.

I read, took classes, paid attention to the vineyards flowing over valley floors and hillsides as the seasons changed. I thought about what was taking place in those vines – and why.

I began to understand why Jesus told so many parables using the rich cultural understanding of the common folk about their vineyard plots to convey spiritual truth.

This is the Year of the Vine for me. The beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking, always rewarding world of farming and vineyards and winemaking.

Many of the vines here are already bare of leaves. The floor of the Dry Creek Valley where I drive to work several times a week is a rust-colored carpet. As the vines go to sleep, the leaves of some varietals still cling to the dark vines. But they too will eventually let go.

Dry Creek Valley. Early winter.

Dry Creek Valley. Early winter.

Next? Pruning.

There is, for me, no season when the vineyard is not beautiful. I suspect Jesus thought the same thing, even on those gray, winter Palestine days when dark, twiggy stumps sat in muddy fields.

Here are some ideas for this spanking New Year:

  • Pay attention. Train your eyes to see possibilities.
  • Worry less. It is an utter waste of time.
  • Pray. Pray more. Prayer changes things. This will never not be true.

I hope you will live joyfully and purposefully in 2014. You may hear the footsteps of the pruning crew and the sharpening of the shears. But don’t resist. True joy and purpose will follow.

Zinfandarling Gets Pruned: A Vineyard Tale



Hey, God! It’s me! Zinfandarling! Over here in the southeast corner of the vineyard!

Good morning.

Will You be pruning today?

Yes, that’s why I’m here.

Great! I’m sure You remember my super crop last fall. That’s going to be a great vintage! Me and my big fruity zins.


So, you’ll go easy with clippers, right? I mean, don’t mess with success and all that.


Okay. Well, have You been over in the. . .hey! You’re working pretty fast there. Are you going to thin the entire block like that?


Whoa! You do realize I’m a 50 year old head-trained vine, right? A treasure? A little fragile, maybe?


Well, I’m not appreciating the scalping here.

Your pride canes are thick. They’ll sap good growth in humility.

Well, have you seen those hoity-toity pinot noirs? They’re bristling like. . .

That’s not your business.


That’s not your business.

But, the cabernets and syrahs are. . .



Shhhh. I’m working.

But . . . OUCH! That was a big healthy spur! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

 Necessary reduction.

Necessary reduction.

That spur was a tendency to anger. It would grow much larger and increase the risk of being knocked off, damaging your trunk.


Your growth would be injured.

I’m injured now!

No, you are not.

God, I thought I was long past needing to be pruned like this.

No, you are not.


Pruning for quality.


Flavor concentration.

Have you seen the reviews? MY FLAVOR IS FINE!!!

My flavor is what is important.


My flavor is what is important.

But do you prune the chardonnays and sauvig. . .

That’s not your business.

(Long silence, except for the sound of snipping.)

 All done.

All done.

I’ll never recover.

You will be fine. Trust Me.

(Long silence, except for the sound of more snipping.)

There’ll be less wine.

There will be better wine.



Yes, it will be alright.


It’s wintertime. Pruning season. Been pruned yet? Want to share?

Winter Vineyard (Thoughts on March)

A friend and I were discussing some difficult things recently when I heard myself say, “There’s a lot going on in a winter vineyard.” I can tell you that living in a county with 50,000 acres of leafless vineyards might make you stop and think about that a bit.

By the month of March, the most crucial work of the vineyard (no, not harvesting – pruning) has been done. Not only have the vines been pruned, but the canes have been moved into heaps and mulched.  The past is the past.  Those canes have done their job.

And now the vines sleep. These vines – dark, bare, and seemingly lifeless – sleep all over hills and valleys, and along riverbeds and roadsides everywhere in Sonoma County.  There are no tractors, pickers, or pruners anywhere to be seen.  (Well, okay, the wild mustard is blooming.)

How in the world does this area produce 200,000 tons of grapes each year from those sticks?  It is because the farmer knows his vines. He hires pruners who know vines. Cuts are made carefully, strategically.  In which direction should this cane grow? The angle of the sun on that particular block of vines is considered.  Heavier growth is desirable here, thinner growth there. It is exceedingly precise, with quality of fruit always in mind.

The vines, naked and sorry-looking as they appear, are not really in trouble. There is a lot going on, deep in the healthy interior.  The mysterious processes of life will stir and vine-blood will flow again.

When Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” this was what He was talking about.  If it’s wintertime in the vineyard of your life, the prayer and obedience you have been faithfully practicing will pay off.  After this seemingly lifeless season, a surprising harvest will be produced in your life.

Fact is, you can’t bear fruit without pruning and rest.  Any farmer will assure you of that.

Are you trusting God that His good purposes are being worked out in your life – right now?

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