Pastor's Wife, Mom, Writer & Imperfect Seeker of Jesus
Rooted In Christ
September 21, 2016
BIBLICAL WINEMAKING 101
I am in love!! Two weeks ago Ryan and I headed up to northern Michigan for some time away to ourselves. Neither of us had ever been to the tip of the lower peninsula before, and let me just say that it is breathtakingly beautiful! Life had been so crazy leading up to the night before we left that we basically just threw our clothes in a bag and took off. No plans, no itinerary, just a place to stay.
Every day ended up being an adventure though. One of the things that we decided to do was to visit some of northern Michigan’s vineyards. About 10 years ago, we were on a trip to Virginia and signed up for a random $5 tour the resort was offering for the day. We found ourselves standing in the middle of these rolling hills covered with gorgeous grapevines.
The tour guide explained how Thomas Jefferson had originally planted that particular vineyard three times with European grapevines and had failed every time. He eventually sold the land to someone else who succeeded with the vineyard by grafting European vines into American grapevine roots.
From there, we toured a Russian vineyard, and by the end of the day, I was hooked. Learning about vineyards and the winemaking process became a fascination of mine. You see, I realized how much I had missed from God’s Word because I knew nothing of this process. Grapes and grapevines are mentioned more than any other plant in the Bible with well over 400 occurrences in Scripture.
Here in Indiana I’m surrounded by corn and bean fields, so I totally understand the whole plant and harvest parts of Scripture. We also get to work with sheep every year for 4-H, so I get a glimpse of what the Lord is saying when He talks about sheep and the Shepherd. But vines? That was an unknown world to me.
So here we were this month in northern Michigan, along the same latitudinal line that some of the famous vineyards of France and Italy are found. We HAD to visit some!
The first vineyard we went to, Mackinaw Trail Winery, started out with the typical information about what is significant to the local grapes grown, the challenges with cold winters and how their wine compared with others in the world. Then we toured the behind-the-scenes area and saw what equipment and types of barrels this winery uses and learned the step-by-step process that they have instituted. We basically had the whole place to ourselves because it was the middle of the week and early in the day.
Before we left, we asked if we could walk around the actual vineyards. They were beautiful. It was interesting to see the vines up close in different stages of growth, from those newly planted to others that were mature. As we headed back to the car to leave for the day we heard, “So what did you think?”
It was the owner, Raffaele (who everyone called Ralph), enjoying the sunshine with his sweet golden retriever. When he asked us if we had walked all the way down to a particular variety of grapes, which we hadn’t, he said, “Well, come on then!” And the next thing we knew, Ryan and I (and Syrah the dog) were racing up and down the vineyard hills with Ralph in his cart!
He would stop every so often, jump out and pick some grapes for us to sample. Then we would be off to another part of the vineyard. It was obvious that Ralph absolutely loved what he did. In fact, he had grown up pressing grapes with his grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant. He shared more information than we had ever learned on a vineyard visit before, and one of the things explained why Thomas Jefferson had failed back in Virginia all those years ago.
The elementary version is this: There is an insect called Phylloxera that is native to North America. It is a miniscule parasite that feeds on the sap of grapevine roots. As it sucks out the sap, it also injects a toxin into the root that makes the wound impossible to heal. Eventually the grapevine will die from a combination of the Phylloxera toxin as well as bacterial infections from the open wounds of the root.
European grapevines brought over to America by the Colonists in order to enjoy the wine they were so familiar with in their homeland were killed by the Phylloxera before they were ever able to produce grapes for wine. HOWEVER, it was discovered that the grapevines native to America were RESISTANT to Phylloxera. Over time, wine producers found that if they grafted the desired grapevines into the American grapevine roots, the new grapevines would survive, produce and flourish.
So what does this have to do with the Bible? Well let me pull out a few of Jesus’ words from the well-known “I am the Vine” John 15 passage: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Remain IN me, and I IN you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain IN Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains IN Me and I IN him produces much fruit, because you can do NOTHING without me.” (John 15: 1, 4-5 HCSB, emphasis mine)
We desire to produce fruit for the Lord. We desire to live each day for Him as well. Yet we so often attempt to do this on our OWN strength and ability. Or at most, we want Christ to come “alongside” us.
But Jesus says no. “You have to give up what you were, die to yourself, CUT OFF your root system and be grafted INTO Me so that it is ME who nourishes you, strengthens you, grows you, develops you. EVERYTHING has to come from Me. Then…only THEN, you can produce and flourish.”
It is no wonder that so many go to bed at night feeling like they’ve failed in some way. Or if not failed, accomplished nothing mentally, physically or spiritually. The parasites of this fallen world eat at us continually. And just when we think we have overcome, we get gnawed at again. Because on our own, we are not resistant to the toxins of our world.
Oh, but praise God that Jesus is! He has already overcome it and His resistance flows through us if we remain daily rooted in Him and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to fill us up.
The cool thing about grafting vines is that eventually the new vine branches and the old vine root become ONE plant. Be one with Christ and flourish!!