Sunday, May 03, 2009

Nature and the Hand of Man

“The vine and humankind have walked the same path together for thousands of years.” This quote, remembered from some ancient text, sets our mutual destinies on course. Whatever we think is natural has been in a state of constant change. The vines, the wines and the humans. Some of the changes work, some of them are imperfect, and so it goes. It amuses me when I hear the natural camp express a stringent, unbending philosophy of what they think wine should be. Equally bemusing are those who think wine is all the hand of man. Somewhere in the middle there is an equilibrium, but I won’t be the one to bring both sides to the table. It is not my concern. What interests me is how these two elements, nature and the hand, have come all these years on the wine trail.

After the meetings and the tastings I itch to get out into the fresh air and walk in the vineyards. Do I care about the trellising or the distance between the vines? Not one whit. Is the soil important? For the vines growing in it, yes, but schist, calcaire or gumbo, what can I do about it? Nothing. That is for those who have committed their lives to the soil below them. In my garden, yes, there I have my concerns. Where to plant my tomatoes, basil and squash. The Hoja Santa, which is taking over everything as if it were meant to. And the peppers and the arugula, growing wherever I stick them. The oregano, which has decided it would rather live in the crack between the fence and the concrete decking. And the rosemary, which is thriving in the pot, most likely root-bound, and delirious. That is my nature and the world in which my bees and squirrels and sparrow hawks live.

In Italy, the hand of man (and woman) has many facets. The nobleman, whose family has owned the property for countless generations, his hand is now finely manicured and steady in which to pour his precious liquid. For his and the legacy of his family, the land is everything, for it has given them so much. Pride, prestige, wealth, standing, position and time to read the ancient and modern philosophers. Wine is part of his Cosmologia Generalis. Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, says, " He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.”

Nothing can happen to any man which is not a human accident, nor to an ox which is not according to the nature of an ox, nor to a vine which is not according to the nature of a vine, nor to a stone which is not proper to a stone. If then there happens to each thing both what is usual and natural, why shouldst thou complain ? For the common nature brings nothing which may not be borne by thee. -Marcus Aurelius

The hand of the young son of the winemaker, hands stained with grape and soil, those are his jewels and his gold. Years ago, in Montalcino, at the table of a humble family of vine growers, we had lunch from everything that grew or was raised on the farm. These were farmers, uncomplicated in the way they saw life. They woke up early and worked until lunch. They ate and took a short nap. Then they returned to their work until dinner. And afterwards, maybe a little diversion. But the life was set for them.

Years later I ran into them in Northern Italy. The farmer had a light green suit on. He seemed out of balance in it. His wife, her hands still stained by the pomace of the grapes, were laden with all manner of gold and ornamentation. Their land was valuable and the wine commanded a high price. Their station in life, economically, was changing. And they were, too. Were they moving away from their nature with their suits and their jewelry? And if they were, who could warn them of the dangers they would face with their newfound affluence?

Last month, in the hills of Soave, we were taking one last visit and taste before heading back to America to work. In the late afternoon as we looked out over the vineyards, our hostess pointed to a small figure moving briskly down below. “She has worked in these vineyards all her life. She wakes up early and heads out to the fields and returns at the end of the day, almost every day. And she is 95 years old now.”

I saw not only a 95 year old walking briskly up that steep hill. I saw the spirit of one who had learned long ago what her nature was. And like the birds and the bees in my backyard following their nature, so was this incredible old woman.

To her who gives and takes back all, to nature, the man who is instructed and modest says, Give what thou wilt; take back what thou wilt. And he says this not proudly, but obediently and well pleased with her. - Marcus Aurelius


danadpatterson said...

This is possibly the most beautiful,eloquent post I have read on your blog. Thank you!

Marco Tauro said...

What with the word "natural" being bandied about into oblivion these days, you have used it well and with meaning.
"Nature rejoices in nature.
Nature subdues nature.
Nature rules over nature.

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