Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning by Doing

Viticulture (grape-farming) is an apprenticeship based discipline. The poet Gary Snyder said that with one’s education the four years after college are as important as the four year’s during college (paraphrasing). 

Jack in the vineyard
Our intrepid employee Jack Roberts is starting his third season with us—the first year collecting field data for my consulting company, and last year working for Matthiasson Family Vineyards on our tiny farming operation. For years we were too small to justify hiring an employee for the farming. We just didn’t have the cash, so I had to either do it myself, or get a crew in on a Sunday for the big pushes. Our farming and winemaking business is finally getting to the point where we could justify hiring an employee, thus we can now share the journey with Jack.

Since an apprenticeship is truly what’s required, it’s a tough balance between education and work output. There has been a lot of investment, and it’s so exciting and gratifying to see Jack’s proficiency develop. This year he pruned the Michael Mara vineyard in Sonoma, a super rocky and tough site, which makes for complicated pruning, in half the time it took him last year. And I feel that the vines are better pruned. The vines suffered a bit from being practiced on last year, but that’s part of the process. I shudder to think of the vineyards I screwed up while learning the trade of viticulturist—Jack hasn’t yet approached the level of inexperienced blunders that I’ve made—thankfully there haven’t really been any blunders at all.

bud break
So pruning, fixing trellises, operating equipment, fertilizing, killing gophers, spraying vines, racking wine, bottling, crushing grapes, delivering wine, packing jars of jam for the wine club, all these skills are being mastered, and not only making my life easier, but giving a lot of gratification at passing the long tradition of farming along to someone else.

And, our kids are next in line to gain that knowledge. Our son Harry asked me how to prune this winter, so we pruned the fruit trees and blackberries around the house. Next winter it will be the grapes.

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