In Ambient Beauty
The Egyptians were hardcore decorators; they were among the first to use flowers as wall decorations for interior spaces. The Greeks and Romans were the gardeners and florists of the ancient world, and both used flowers for celebratory and decorative purposes – even scattering petals and garlands on banquet tables at events and parties. A strong case might be made that these early societies were the inspiration for modern flower arrangements in dining room settings. Perhaps, it might even be said that they were the Martha Stewarts of antiquity.
Each of these ancient civilizations also happens to be the earliest proliferators of wine culture. So, the next time you’re enjoying wine amidst the tranquility and color of beautiful flowers, raise a glass to the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans – they paired wine and flowers first.
The colours of flowers are the palettes of the greatest artists in history. No, I don’t mean “palates” because I’m certain wine had its influence on a palette, or two. Artists have historically loved wine. Leonardo de Vinci is quoted saying:
"The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star."
Indeed, the artist, the inventor, and the genuine Indigo-child, Leonardo, had something to say about wine…and influentially, the colors of art. His mastery of colors and imagery in the world of art is unrivaled to this day. We still look at stars and see the colors of the universe. Do we look at wine and see the colors of the world?
We look at the colors of wine and behold the deep hues, the dark depths, the airy neons, and the beautiful extractions of ink from the pens of so many artistic geniuses; so many artists with palettes full of expression. We search for their expression in nature, and in the meanings of life—whose simple flowers put our human efforts to shame. Despite our human results, we keep trying to make the connection. The colors are around us everywhere, everyday. The flowers are beautiful, colorful, and fragrant.
Not sure if you’ve noticed this, but wine smells like flowers in varying degrees and varieties—at least, the one’s I like do. In my experience, the more intriguing and developed the floral fragrance, the more curious I am about the complexity of the wine. Is it a coincidence that we call the aroma of wine the “Bouquet”? I think not. Any gander at the millions of wine critic bloviations and you’re certain to encounter a barrage of florific synonyms. It’s difficult to imagine a wine review without some relatable mention of the fragrant quality of flowers.
Consider the words of Greek poet, writer, and comedian Hermippus (400 BC, in the voice of Dionysus, God of Wine):
“Because of Mendaian the gods actually wet their soft beds. As for Magnesia's sweet bounty, and Thasian, over which floats the smell of apples, I judge is far the best of all wines excepting Khian, irreproachable and healthy. But there is a wine which they call "the mellow", and out of the mouth of the opening jars of it there comes the smell of violets, the smell of roses, the smell of hyacinth. A sacred odour pervades the high-roofed dwelling, ambrosia and nectar in one. That is nectar; and of that my friends shall drink in the bountiful feast; but my enemies shall have Peparethan.” (source)
Hey, did you know that seventy to seventy-five percent of taste is actually our sense of smell? (source)
There’s much to be said about the taste of wine and flowers. I’m sure you’re aware that many flowers are quite deliciously edible. However, I don’t necessarily think that flowers taste like wine (maybe, a little). I do think the taste of wine is like a flower. Wine’s taste can be bright, light and breezy, like a wind-swept wild poppy hillside in springtime. The taste of wine can be deep, bold and vivid, like the Queen of Roses blooming in full splendor, and it can be intense, stunning, and abstract, like the rare Tropical Orchids damp in the misty jungle forest. I hope that these types of tastes don’t scare you. They’re only flowers, after all.
Poet E.E. Cummings, in his poem “Voices to Voices, Lip to Lip,” said:
“…perhaps [the thing to do] is to eat flowers and not to be afraid.”
Perhaps then, we should go ahead and drink the delicate essence of wine’s flowers—without fear.
Wine is oh-so sensitive and vulnerable throughout its entire lifecycle…all the way up to its final destination. A living fruit attached to a living vine exposed to natural elements and tended-to fastidiously by vineyard hands and pickers, wine grapes are as delicate as any flower (grapevines, in fact, produce a tiny flower of their own). Wine’s fragility goes way beyond its viney, grapey life in the vineyard: in the crushing and fermenting process, in the bottling and aging process, and well into beverage service and subsequent consumption. All along the way, wine is susceptible to unfavorable temperatures, moisture, improper handling, sun-exposure; all the same things that render flowers to suffer damage and death. This is why flowers understand wine, because flowers and wine just want to bring beauty to the world—to make you happy. For this reason, they gladly give their life. They secretly made this agreement long ago, back in the vineyard.
(photo credit: Amy B.)
In the Vineyard
Grapes are born in the vineyard, vineyards are planted in the earth, and the earth is ancient and wise. The earth knows what is good and what is evil, and it speaks these truths of good and evil through the roots that pierce its gravelly heart. The roots are the conduits and carriers of sacred conversations that we can also hear, if we choose to listen.
What spectacle in wine country is as brilliant and eventful as the seasonal blooming of neon green wild grasses, multi-colored wildflowers, bright orange and yellow poppies and mustard? Did you know there is a greater purpose to these vineyard fireworks?
I asked Garnet's Winemaker, Alison Crowe, about mustard in the vineyards, and she provided:
“Believe it or not, there is a real viticultural reason to encourage the growth of mustard plants in the vineyard. They (along with cousins in the Brassica genus like radishes and broccolis) naturally contain compounds that, when tilled into the soil after the plant dies down in the summer, actually inhibit nematodes in the soil which can damage vines. In addition to being beautiful, you can consider mustard to be a beneficial cover crop, and one of Mother Nature's helpers in achieving healthy vineyards.”
“I love the mustard-blooming season! They make me happy because they're a gorgeous way to wake up the vineyard after a long winter's sleep, as well as being a natural way to help keep the root nematodes at bay!”
Have you ever noticed the beautiful rose bushes that adorn the ends of vineyard rows? I asked Alison about this and she so kindly answered:
“Roses are what is known as an “indicator” species”…” They are sensitive to fungal diseases like powdery and downy mildew just like grapevines. If you see these issues crop up on your roses, it might mean your grapes are next and action should be taken. They serve also to increase the biodiversity of the vineyard. Roses are also just some of my favorite flowers- especially if they smell great! They are so beautiful at the end of vine rows.”
Alison puts her love of flowers and viticulture into practice.
In Practice and Theory
My favorite and perhaps, the greatest wine and flowers quote ever, comes from the legendary winemaker and pioneer of Pinot Noir, Andre Tchelistcheff, and one of the most important men in California’s wine, Capt. Joe Concannon. Andre is quoted by the Los Angeles Times:
"I could not find the French Burgundy taste or perfume in the wines made in the cellar before I came here," … "Capt. Joe Concannon of Livermore was visiting, and I asked him about this grape in California. He spoke to me directly.”
" 'Young man,' he said, 'as the sun sets, go into the garden of Madame de Latour and pick one of her fine red roses, just as it has begun to open. Take it home. Put it into a vase . . . without water. Next morning, put your nose into the heart of that dying rose. Inhale the unique perfume. There you will have the scent to guide you to a perfect Pinot Noir.' That was it." (source)
And, that’s it for my story on the relationship of wine and flowers. It’s a beautiful, colorful, fragrant, tasteful, and natural relationship; in practice and theory.
Wine and flowers are a symbiotic union of romance and love.