Merigian Studios


Humans Are Grapes, Let's Make Wine

Have you ever participated in a wine tasting? It sounds like something that the Great Gatsby would enjoy. He might. There’s much more to evaluating a wine than just approving or disapproving the taste. What’s even more intriguing is that evaluating wine is almost identical to evaluating people.

The wine making process is not simple. Many of us have the image in our minds of beautiful barefooted maidens dancing inside of a vat filled with grapes creating the juice that magically somehow ferments into wine. Although romantic, this understanding is far from the truth.

The modern winemaker uses a combination of old world and modern winemaking techniques. All kinds of grapes are grown and used in the vast winemaking industry that spans almost every region of the world. Winemakers taste grapes off the vine as harvest time approaches; ultimately, they make the decision to harvest based on their senses, intuition, experience, and chemical analysis of the sugar content of the grapes. There is a perfect moment to harvest grapes; no time can be wasted once the decision to harvest is made, since the ripening process is quick. Some winemakers use machines to harvest the grapes, others use workers to hand pick them off the vines.

Once picked, the grapes are sorted and pressed. Only the juice is used to make white wine; skins, seeds (pips), and juice are used to make red wine. The immature wine matrix is poured into stainless steel tanks or oak barrels to ferment. Some winemakers allow fermentation to occur with only the wild natural yeasts that are attached to the grape while it grows, yet others add a specific yeast strain to the juice to enhance fermentation. Yeast is a single cell from of the fungus Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. These yeasts are as genetically diverse as people: they look different, work different, have different speeds, and different skill sets related to fermentation.

Once the sugar is completely turned into alcohol, the fermentation process is finished. Some wines are bottled immediately, some are filtered first, and some are matured in oak barrels then bottled and additionally aged. The type of oak used in barrel making, French or American, impacts the flavor of the wine. Toasting the inside of the barrel also changes the character of the wine as it ages. Even though barrels are water tight, they are not airtight; therefore, the longer the wine ages in the barrel, the longer it oxidizes and softens the tannins. As white wine ages in barrels it darkens in color, and the longer red wine ages, it lightens in color.

Once the winemaker determines that the wine has matured enough to be bottled, one final choice is to be made: cork or screw cap stoppers. Wines that are to continue to age in bottles are corked; others that are savored for their youthful fruitiness and freshness are stopped with screw caps.

Grapes are divided into noble and non-noble varieties. Noble varieties have unique characteristics that are retained regardless of where they’re grown. Non-noble varieties are grown in specific wine making regions and vary greatly depending on their environment.

Most wine enthusiasts acknowledge that the specific grape, and the region where it is grown, greatly influences the ultimate fate of the wine. The term terroir is used in wine making and refers to the combination of local factors where specific grapes are grown – climate, topology, soil content, water content, nearby vegetation – and their perceived impact on the taste of the wine. Terroir is a controversial term, but none-the-less very important. Wine has color, aroma, acidity, sweetness, body, warmth, finish and length. These characteristics are often used to determine wine quality in a wine tasting competitions.

Why should a short discussion of wine be remotely important to anyone reading my blog? Because it serves as a metaphor about people, especially those who have become ill.

Humans are essentially grapes: diverse in genetic character and responsive to environmental conditions. Humans all share common physical and cognitive characteristics, they are socialized in clusters (families) and all experience different and unique terroir. Human terroir refers not only to the local environmental factors, but also to the social community in general. People are socialized based on parental beliefs, friends and neighbors’ beliefs, community consciousness, religious worldviews, food bias, exposures to illicit and medicinal drugs, alcohol, and sexual practices within specific social networks. All of these terroir factors impact our perceptions of others and ourselves.

A person’s personality traits can be considered their aroma, their political beliefs their acidity or sweetness, their complexity as their body, their investment in their personal growth as their finish, and their ability to relate to others as their length. Studying the art and science of winemaking opens our understanding about the impacts subtle differences in our nurturing, which can be referred to as our soil conditions and water content, has in our overall ability to enjoy or reject life. When nurturing is inadequate, children often times grow to have less compassion and caring for others, and are insecure and depend on others for their constant reinforcement of happiness. Wine making demands constant attention to the smallest detail; we should also pay attention to the smallest detail in human socialization to assure that we help encourage more altruism than selfishness and isolation. Our community goal should be to rear children to be their natural self, unafraid of judgment and absent of a sense of rejection.

Grapes suffer disease the same as people. Some diseases, like Botrytis Cinerea also known as noble rot fungus, are considered to enhance the flavor of wine since they concentrates the sugar inside a grape and are said to create flavors of honey, apricot or almonds in wine. Humans often experience a disease that purifies a person’s heart and puts everything into perspective, allowing them to resume a more fulfilled life after they are well. Often diseases in both people and grapes are devastating without any apparent redeeming value what-so-ever. These illnesses threaten the very essence of life, giving us strong fore knowledge of our fragile mortality. There are grape doctors and human doctors who devote their entire life to finding cures and saving lives, only to personally succumb to the very unhealthy forces that they have been trying to overcome. But if we all think deeply enough, we will all come to the realization that Death cannot conceal the meaning of life, no matter what the perceived imbalance.

I encourage everyone to investigate winemaking to fully appreciate the complexity and balance that is necessary to aging a good wine; and at the same time, see it as a metaphor to becoming a person with profound wisdom. We could all use a little more oxidation to cultivate and refine our worldviews, but too much of a good thing could sour us. Remember to know when to cork your bottle. Find the terroir that best suits you, so that you can be all that nature intended, so you can live a full and interesting life.


Posted by Katie Reed at 9:20 AM
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