It was before 6 a.m., but there were already a lot of holes. Dawn had not broken, but a dim light was just starting to flow over the mountains. Hundreds of holes had already been dug. Around thirty people moved their spades rhythmically, almost silently, as they dug twelve-inch holes, one after another. This is how you plant, or should I say, how they plant a vineyard.
Last week at Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, we planted about a third of the vines we need to plant this month. That was over four thousand holes, dug by hand in less than two day’s work. But digging the hole was only the beginning. Once the holes are dug, they must each receive, by hand, a shovel full of Biodynamic compost mixed with Azomite and Calphos and then a vine needs to be dropped in each hole. On each vine, the biodegradable root cover had to be removed by hand due to the requirements of our organic certification. Then, on their knees, with their hands, each hole is filled and the vine is in its new home.
One day these vines will give birth to wines served in some of the best restaurants in the world. But it is these people in the pre-dawn hours with their spades and on their hands and knees that brought these vines to live in this vineyard.
Winery tours and articles like to feature barrels, tanks, and machines, but it is the hands of the people that craft them that make wines of place come to life. From the moment the vines are planted, to when they are tended in the vineyards, to the cellar work that turns grapes into wine, the best wines are handmade wines.
Hands, not things make memorable wines. Hands hold the spades that dug the holes to plant them, hands shovel the compost to help them grow, hands prune and position the shoots as they grow, hands pick the grapes, hands sort the fruit that arrives at the winery and hands hold the glasses when it’s time to savor the hand labor that put the wine in those glasses. Making and enjoying wine is a hands-on experience.
The thousands of holes dug by dozens of hands will start to produce wine in three years. Many hands will touch each of these vines as they grow over the next years. Your delight and pleasure in the wine they will one day produce will be the result of the work those hands. Hand to hand to hand and, finally, to the glass in your hand.
Wines of place, with terroir, touch you because of the many touches that have brought the wine to you.
Planting grenache noir at Troon Vineyard