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A Year in the Vineyard - December

Sensing change in the air, mid-December ushers in flowering grapevines. Another important event in the growing year that determines the crop. We hope for a week or two of clear dry weather. The trouble with rain during flowering is that it prevents the caps on the yet-to-form flowers from coming off. When the caps stick, the flowers cannot form and be pollinated which results in a no berry situation. No berry, No wine. There will always be a small percentage that do not reach berryhood, but when most of the rakis (the stem of the bunch) suffers from minimal flowering, it will be a low yield year on the vineyard. This year, however, things are looking good. The scent in the air informs me that flowering is on track and initiates mental digression…

Grape flowers with their distinctive aroma: If you are not familiar with this pervasive odiferous occurrence, I encourage you to amble over to your nearest Bath and Body Works shop and take a deep inhale of their ‘Cucumber Melon’ line.

It seems that the noses that create perfume names have either a.) never stepped into a vineyard or b.) understood their market to have never stepped into a vineyard and thus created a title that people could theoretically relate to, simultaneously producing a misnomer and a confusing vision of viridity!

The fragrance is deeply complex. Sesquiterpenes, nerolidol, benzyl benzoate, tridecanone contribute to the citrus-balsamic-woody-waxy-herbacious scent of the efflorescence. It remains far more complex than a completely ripe, fresh fruit salad rubbed salubriously into one’s skin could ever be. I am now caught in the web. Instead of smelling the lotion and it reminding me of flowering, I smell flowering and am brought back to remembering a friend who religiously moisturized with that particular scent.

Growth in the canopy is only slightly behind this year. Most years it is ready for the tractor to cruise through and give the tips a military style buzz cut, ‘top and sides please’. It is on the cusp of the holiday which will delay the trim till the new year, when the tractor drivers return refreshed from their lakeside camping escapes. But for now Debs is battling to tuck the vines into the wires. As the job nears finishing, each sunny day makes the rows more challenging to tame. Dealing with this wilful growth feels like folding a duvet into an origami crane. Not impossible but best left to the professionals.

A week later, the summer solstice brings a 5am start. Preparations for family, activity, and garden were blessed with extra hours gifted by the longest day. Though it seems, beating eggs for royal icing at 5:30am was not a blessing for those still snoozing. Carpe Diem!

December is a peculiar month in the southern hemisphere. Northern holidays venturing south and with it bringing traditions that future anthropologists will reflect on with bewilderment. Winter foods saved for the summer when the garden is in glut. Lights to brighten the night strewn about on the longest day.

Many transplants I know feel disheartened at Christmas time, as did I having spent my first few years wondering where all the manic festivity was. Mayhem associated with a date, a holiday, expectations that came with another culture. What is lost in translation? Slowly, like every culture, it shifts and absorbs, things are kept and others left behind.

Added on to this peculiarity is the New Year. The calendar announcing that it will all begin again despite us down in the antipodes being in the middle of everything. What has traditionally been practiced in the North at New Year is rest, reflection, and resolution. Dark quiet days to farewell the old and plot how this next year will be bigger, better, more effective, healthier, well rounded. Quite the battle really, as you are holding onto a bitty string tied to the back of a boat careening around a lake. Off to a good start anyway.

Slowing down this time of year is challenging to say the least yet not without its rewards. Actually Looking. Seeing the stages of blooms, watching skinks appear and evaporate, surveying the colours of the sky and clouds at all times of day. Slowing. Down.

Observing seasonality brings people closer to nature and in doing so naturally makes us more time rich. Living with the vineyard, its headlands and all the inhabitants keeps me in touch with the natural rhythms. I hope that you can make some time to look, observe and contemplate the big and the small, the motion and stillness, and the changes that this bright summer season generously bestows on those that pause.