GIBSONVILLE — Our College’s Culinary Arts students ask: What’s the hardest thing about farming?
Because Max Lloyd — owner of Grove Winery in Guilford County — makes it clear wine is first and foremost farming.
First, weather. Hail. Hurricane. Tropical storm rain far inland. Drought. Extreme heat. Not cold enough in the winter to forestall insects. Each year so predictably unpredictable.
Max declares 2019 a dream year for Grove. Cabernet Sauvignon still hanging in late September to absorb sun without rain, without wilting heat.
I’ve heard the same about 2019 from Yadkin Valley to the west. Goldilocks visited in 2019 — not too hot, not too cold, not too moist — just right.
Second, Max instructs students, there are pests. His netting signals bird threat. But there’s evidence of Pierce’s Disease in spots. That’s a deadly disease for grapevines.
Next, Max introduces a third variable — one aspiring chefs might better understand.
“Mostly, I’d say labor. Say you have a catering business. You know when it’s going to be busy, when it’s going to be so slow you might need only two employees. And then suddenly, you need two times 20.”
In growing grapes, there are seasonal windows — winter pruning, leaf pulling, spraying, harvest, bottling — when wineries can calculate labor needs.
But there are marketing events to be staffed. There is emergency weather demanding last-minute action in the vineyard. Ask any restaurant what AWOL labor looks like on any shift.
Field work is hard — stooping, picking, hauling, stinging swarms, heat. And laborers ... well ... they travel. Might be available, might not.
Imagine, Max poses, you’re catering an event for 500 with only three employees available to you.
Our College’s Culinary Arts program includes a semester in Wine Appreciation. Many students find this class more difficult than I could imagine. Many struggle to absorb the concept of matching grapes to wine regions, matching growing to geography, topography, climate. There’s soil, slope, drainage, sun, proximity to water, elevation, micro-climates. All of it summed up by hard-to-pronounce terroir.
After each test, students taste wines from around the globe, wines many have never experienced, drilling on color, aroma, flavor profile, finish, acids, sugars and tannins. Then, there’s how to open wine, how to serve wine. There’s food-wine pairings.
Outside class, in the vineyard, Grove Winery might be their best opportunity to put it all together and makes sense of it all. They munch the super-sweet Cabernet Sauvignon hanging on the vine, swatting away stinging pests who love sugars, too. They crunch and spit the seeds, a first introduction to young tannins.
In large vats, they punch down grape skins, bringing purple gaseous juices below to life.
They taste vinifera, hybrids and dessert wines, so many not liking dry styles but smacking lips at sweeter styles. The soft-drink generation. What are you going to do?
They squeal in delight when offered the chance to affix a label to their very own strawberry wine bottle just now siphoned from tank.
Max asks, “You want to take your wine glass with you?” Max thinks, “Great! Thanks for sharing my business card with your peeps.”
At college, I audit Wine Appreciation class any chance I get. Throughout the semester, I see lights go on, little by little, for culinary students struggling with wine appreciation.
Their tenderfoot education reminds me of my ongoing wine journey — 40 years and counting — and that makes it all the more special.