Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Grape Harvest & Rich History

Steep Slopes above the Mosel

We're nearing Autumn Equinox and celebration of harvest in Northern Hemisphere wine countries. The gnarled and trellised vines begin turning tawny-gold, heavy with fruit.

I helped once with cutting Riesling grape bunches above the Mosel River, on slopes steep and shale-y. South-facing, the mountainside had been terraced for grapes by the Romans in their incursions into Germania, ultimately an over-reach of empire.

But the ancient slopes still bear fragrant highly complex grapes, which I was soon to learn were stunningly heavy as I filled my conical basket! A mountain goat terrain: all the pickers wore sturdy hiking boots.

All along the coasts of early America, before asphalt and monoculture, wild berries grew in forest clearings and grapes twined up trees.

Greenland Vikings in their dragon-prowed long ships, centuries before Columbus, sailed the North Atlantic to the New World shores. Stunned by the bounty of grapes, they named the new territory, Vinland.

The wildings still do grow, and certainly did on my organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains: hardy, intensely fragrant slip-skins called fox grapes. I filled bushel baskets reaching up into alders along the creek bottoms and made many gallons of juice each autumn.

The hardy native grapes did a curtsy to fine wines in the nineteenth century! France nearly lost its vineyards to a devastating root disease. An American horticulturalist rode to the rescue, as it were:

In July 1883, the French Minister of Agriculture, Pierre Viala, arrived in Denison, Texas to confer the Chevalier du Mérite Agricole (The French Legion of Honor) to Thomas V Munson for his work is saving the wine industry in France.

In the late 1870s and early 1880, vineyards in France were being wiped out by the root lice disease Phylloxera. Munson traveled 50,000 miles in research of a grape plant that was resistant to the disease. When he began his research at Denison he struck pay dirt. Thousands of root stock were sent to France, and a massive plant grafting program implemented.

Three years later, on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France honoring American Friendship, would be dedicated in New York harbor. http://howdyyall.com
This year, in the Rocky mountains, I thanked the farmer who had brought me Concord grapes, one of the old woodland varieties, slip-skin and aromatic.

At the weekend farmers market, the grower and I settled on a wholesale price for the grapes he'd tended at lower elevation down the wild river canyon. I was buying a flat  for nectar-like jam, around 5 kilos or 11 pounds.

My farmer friend and I sat on an adobe wall in the shade of a cottonwood. As we listened to a cellist play a Bach Suite, he told me what he was getting retail for small baskets of grapes.

Now, I've farmed and respect the labor involved in bringing crops to harvest. I was appalled that he'd undercut himself on my purchase. How could I set this right?

As it happened, he was keen about my new organic farm book, Earth-Whisperers; I offered him a signed copy to balance things out. Well, he was tickled, but then felt uncomfortable that I'd given too much!

He went quiet. Rummaging for jute string he tied up a bunch of French thyme and set it on the grapes and grinned at me.

We both felt blest: fair value and good feeling. Very different from the predator-paradigm, as we create community, all of us, a planetary-community of hope and change. And integrity. 

I'll be reading stories aloud from Earth-Whisperers shortly, and a videographer will film it. I'll post the youtube when ready. Hope you enjoy it. For the many international readers, I've written the regional Appalachian dialect as it sounds, phonetically. I'll read some aloud, so you have the feel of it! It's a hoot.


At September 16, 2014 at 2:29 PM , Anonymous BobK said...

Ain't it the truth!
Even with the global shopping possibilities offered on eBay, the tendency still seems to be to offer a lot and deliver a lot less. The old paradigm of win or lose, but seldom with buyer and seller smiling and feeling grateful for a positive transaction.
I prefer dealing with an individual...one who's honest.
Short of that, give me a credit card company to hide behind and then I'll cautiously become your timid customer.
We can do better - you just proved it with this story.


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