Yes, our vintage years. In this book I invite vintage-age readers to join me in making our way through our autumn-winter years. As we press on the upward way, you may relate to some of my experiences, impressions, and learnings. Let's hold hands as we climb our chronological mountain on our common journey.
Why “vintage”? That's a term from wine making. In the Scriptures we find many references to grapes and wine and wine presses and harvests. Jesus uses analogies to new wine and its containers and to the vine and branches and the bearing of much fruit. At the wedding feast in Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine, it was said to be “the best wine [full-bodied vintage] saved until last.”
By definition vintage is “the wine from a particularly good harvest; the annual produce of a grape harvest; an exceptionally fine wine from a good year; the fullness of time to harvest grapes in preparation for wine making; being or having the best of its kind; dated or old-fashioned objects; being of some antiquity.”
Jesus referred to God the Father as the Husbandman of the vineyard, an old-fashioned word which means “vine dresser” or “vintner,” the owner of the vineyard, the farmer, the manager of resources. We who are in our advanced years, “being of some antiquity,” should aspire to be the “best wine” which the Master of the Vineyard has been cultivating for a lifetime and generously allowing us to age and hopefully mature according to His overall plan for His Kingdom Vineyard.
In my chapter titled “Nature flourishes on my summit” I reflected further on some of the analogies between wine making and God's process of transforming and purifying us in our vintage years into His “best wine.” The following is taken from that chapter.
I researched some basics about Oenology—the process of grape cultivation and wine making—to gain some insight into how God as the Husbandman of the Vineyard may work in our lives in our vintage summit years. He has been “turning our common water into wine.”
Many factors go into the successful growing of grapes, all according to the master plan of the wise owner of the vineyard. He plants the vines to receive the proper amount of sunlight, water, and drainage. For abundant growth He must prune them skillfully so as not to damage them and care for them during the ripening season. He must protect them from insects, blight, and predators. He pays particular attention to the older vines which produce better quality grapes and thus finer wine. He is alert to weather forecasts and shelters the vines from severe winds and storms. What happens to the vines in a given year, whether the season was too rainy or too hot, whether the nights were cool enough, determines the quality of the vintage.
The command decisions of the wine maker during the growing season can completely change the taste and structure of the wine. He carefully watches the overall disposition of the grapevine. He decides the moment of ripeness by the color and texture of the grapes, the appearance of the seed, and ultimately by tasting them.
Autumn is harvest time. Mechanical means are often his choice for large vineyards, but handpicking is preferred because the human hand can be more sensitive and selective. The Vintner has specific goals to achieve different results from separate batches of his vines. Colorless or white wine results from early separation from its skins. Red wine is processed with its skins and and retains the organic compounds, the tannins, which are found in the seeds, stems and skins of grapes. Tannins help to preserve a wine as it improves with age.
Crushing and pressing are essential to achieve purity. Crushing involves gentle squeezing to break the skins and liberate the contents. Now primarily done by mechanical means, in the past the method was by trampling barefoot. Pressing separates the juice from the skins. Its purpose is to obtain still more juice after the prime free-run juice is collected. Ancient wine presses were made of stone and later of wooden baskets.
The wine maker determines what type of barrel to use for fermentation, how long to keep the wine in the barrel, and how much acidity/ph goes into a batch. He favors oak barrels for their strength and because they impart oak aromas and flavor to the wine. The wine maker meticulously controls the fermentation or resting process which in time converts the sugars into alcohol. If he interrupts the fermentation, the wine will be sweeter. If it is allowed to complete, the wine will have a dry finish and higher alcohol content. For sweet wines some residual sugar is allowed to remain. Delaying the harvesting or adding a substance to kill the remaining yeast or some sweet grape juice also achieves sweetness.
Because the wine maker is so intimately involved in the process and runs periodic tests to evaluate the progress, he is able to take appropriate remedial action to correct inadequacies. He watches for microscopic particles that could cloud the wine which is being settled and clarified for purity. He may also add preservatives to prevent spoilage.
The timing from harvest to drinking takes from a few months to over twenty years. Overall quality is achieved by the attributes of the starting material, the grapes, and by all the steps in the process. Nothing is wasted, not the sediment, the water, the skin, pulp, seeds, or stems. All are conserved for some purpose even for animal fodder and fertilizer for fields.
Before bottling, refrigeration can also clarify wine without use of chemicals. Wines can still improve with age even after they are confined in a bottle, especially sparkling wine or Champagne. Additional fermentation takes place inside the bottle where carbon dioxide is trapped to create bubbles.
How has the Lord of the Vineyard been “turning my water into wine” during my vintage season? My advancing age doesn't matter; the older the vine, the better the grapes, and the finer the wine!
I am in God's care in this late season as I was throughout the previous seasons of my life. When I surrender to His will and trust His on-going purpose for my life, I continue to be in process, in transformation, still growing, still learning His ways. Whether rains descend, floods come, winds blow and beat upon my earthly house or “earth suit,” the Lord of the Vineyard is looking after my welfare. He keeps His eye on the storm so it will not overwhelm me. He supplies sufficient sunlight and water to nourish me.
He prunes my wild shoots and protects me from the “little foxes” that would spoil my tender grapes. Whatever happens to me is filtered through His watchful love. He allows only the degree of crushing and pressing that will settle me, achieve purity, and move me toward maturity and holiness. He decides the moment of my ripeness and ordains the length of time for my vintage years. I absorb only the good aroma from whatever circumstances He brings me through because of the fragrance of His own presence continually with me. Even His testings are purposeful.
If He chooses to interrupt the process, it is only to make my wine sweeter. If He permits it to go to its fullness, the wine will become full-bodied and robust. The Lord of the Vineyard is compassionate to correct my inadequacies from growing weakness due to age. As with wine, times of rest are crucial in the process.
Nothing God allows in my life in my senescent years is wasted; He uses all of my experiences working everything for good. Even when I feel "bottled in" by adversities, losses, and hardships, the wine of my life under God's control can improve with age. He is "saving the best wine until last." I become sparkling wine to gladden the heart of my Lord!