I visited Laurita Winery in New Egypt, New Jersey, some years ago. Some of us wanted to see how wine was made. Ray Shea, one of the owners, and Nicholaas Opdam, the Oenologist or Vineyard Manager, gave us a tour.
“ I am the vine, you are the branches” Jesus says in today’s gospel. He saw the vineyard as an image of the play between heaven and earth. Growing grapes is as challenging as sowing seed, which can fall by the wayside, or on hard ground, or among thorns, and the birds of the air can eat it up.
Vines are similar. At the very least, the vine needs pruning. But there’s more.They depend on the right climate, they need the right amount of water, the soil in which they’re planted needs feeding and watchful adjusting. Blackbirds can swoop down on the ripening grapes. Better than protecting nets is a circling red-tailed hawk, the vineyard keepers say.
“We need good weather and other things beyond our control,” they told us. Twice a year the vineyard is blessed, in the cold of January and during the harvest in October.
They’re using the latest technology and the wisdom of wine-makers from all over the world at this vineyard. Solar panels circling the fields harvest the energy of the sun and a man made lake collects vital water. Yet it’s no sure thing. It’s a risky business.
“I am the vine; you are the branches.” I must admit, I hardly thought of the patience, the risk, the dimensions behind this image, which is so richly incarnational. A loaf of bread or a bottle of wine came to the table from nowhere, I thought.
At the Eucharist, bread and wine just come to the table, from nowhere. Not so.