I spent Super Tuesday in the vineyard pulling up vines called Senator. The irony wasn’t lost on me: across the ocean, three senators were in the race of their lives, and the ultimate victor will have a big impact on the lives of millions in this troubled world. I say I was pulling out vines, but these vines are nearly 20 years old and their roots go deep down into the chalk. My job was to prune their wiry tendrils and make it easier for the digger to wrestle the gnarled trunks out of the earth.
The Senator vines, a modern hybrid that claimed Gewürztraminer in its parentage, were chosen in the dreamy optimism of a viticultural novice. I was determined to make that most identifiable wine, although I’d been warned that the pure Gewürztraminer variety wouldn’t thrive in our climate. My only hope was this modern graft was designed to ripen early. The first few vintages produced a wine that was golden in colour, floral, honeyed and spicy a convincing reflection of its ancestry. And then the Senator seemed to lose its way. Yields dropped so dramatically that we could only use it to inject a shot of character into more banal varieties.
Suddenly, it too became somewhat dull, rather like a pretty girl who can’t be bothered with the give and take of conversation. I was baffled by this personality change, but continued to nurture the vines, trying different pruning methods and mineral sprays, hacking away at the shelter belt to let in more sunlight. But this year, I got fed up. I decided to replace them with an early ripening Pinot Noir to add to our sparkling wine. It might not transform our Moonshine into Krug, but it’ll be more rewarding than the unco-operative Senator.
When a farmer makes a mistake, the land is fairly forgiving. Pulling out hedges leads to the loss of layers of vital topsoil. Put hedges back as well as careful feeds and crop rotation and the soil begins to recover. The cost of these mistakes isn’t negligible, but with patience and ingenuity, it can be recouped. In the summer, the restaurant will grill meat and fish over the Senator grapevines.
It sounds good anyway. On Super Tuesday, radio and TV were filled with the news of millions an historic turnout voting in the United States, a country that’s made tragic mistakes in the past eight years. It’s as if the country finally got fed up, and Republicans and Democrats alike decided to pull up the vines and plant anew. I went to bed weary and anxious. I left the radio on all night so that I could hear the results in a semi-conscious state. I woke up to the news that my man Obama hadn’t won California outright, but I still felt good.
I remembered a letter that the writer May Sarton had written to a friend in 1940, after she’d been in London with Julian Huxley. ‘Whatever I hope or believe,’ she wrote, ‘profound changes are taking place and that is reason for hope in itself. And as at all moments of crisis, inner or outer, it can be the end or the beginning, depending on the human mind and on human greatness or weakness… I am glad to be living at such a time. I consider it an honour.’
The old vines cling to the earth. This isn’t an instant job and the digger will be here for days to come. Real change is never easy, but I truly believe that it’s coming and that is reason for hope in itself. I too am glad to be living at such a time.
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