Yes, growing grapes is farming, and most people I have met farmed other crops before they took up a vineyard. But there’s something very different about this sort of agriculture and its product, and certainly something special about it in Texas. In one word: relationships.
I recently attended a grape growers meal held by Becker Vineyards. They invited all the people who grow their grapes to dinner, then paired single vineyard wines with each course. As the food came to the table, the grape growers from that specific vineyard were asked to stand and share something about that year’s harvest, or about that particular grape, or a story. It was so intimate.
Touring the different vineyards in Lubbock, it began to dawn on me how different growing wine grapes is from growing, say, cucumbers, which many of the farmers in that region have done. For one, as Jet Wilmeth of Diamante Doble Vineyards described with his previous cucumbers, much of the crop (the “imperfect” fruit) is left to rot or thrown away. The farmer has very little say in his harvest. And second, those cucumbers (or pumpkins or cotton) go into the market and the farmer seldom sees the final product, and certainly does not receive credit for it.
But with grapes, and especially in Texas, it is very different. The farmer, in essence, creates a paint of sorts and turns it over to the winemaker/ artist. The winemaker then creates a piece of art and hands it back to the farmer (and sells it en masse) in the form of a bottle. Oftentimes the vineyard is placed on the label, giving the farmer direct credit. This became clear sharing a lunch with the Bingham Family as they served wines made soley from their grapes. Or at a dinner with the Newsoms, Canadas and Wilmeths, each family providing a bottle of wine from their soil. The relationships between the drink and the earth, and between the farmer and the winemaker, were clear as day.
My favorite moment of this Becker dinner came when VJ Reddy stood to explain the Viognier made from his grapes. He talked about how old the vines were and how, this whole time, he had hoped for someone to make the grapes into their true expression of wine. And how the Beckers had finally done this. He expressed his gratitude and thanked the Beckers directly, to which they quickly and emphatically replied, “No, thank YOU.”
This doesn’t happen with peanuts or pumpkins. I’d dare to say it’s something better.