Harvesting from loss

As I write this, it’s foggy and autumnal outside. It’s been a week of normal fall days – morning mist giving way to sunny, blue skies. Yet what was once considered run-of-the-mill weather fills me with gratitude.

It has been an especially helpless-feeling fire season thus far. Poor air quality keeping us indoors has weighed heavy on our already fatigued emotions. The new habit of daily checks on PurpleAir tell us if we can run and play outside, and determine the masks to wear should we venture out of the house. The flames themselves have burned unprecedented amounts of acreage, taking with them lives, livelihoods and structures.

The losses have been devastating for wineries and vintners in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties. Even on farms safe from the flames, the fires’ timing, burning through harvest season, has caused huge amounts of fruit to be ruined with smoke taint.

I marvel often at wine’s capacity to be a time capsule of place and growing season. In a year that is perhaps the most unforgettable of our lifetime, how bizarre that it will be marked as a missing vintage for so many winemakers. Vacant oak barrels, empty shelves in cellars and loss of the future work required to nurture a vintage to bottle will denote 2020. We will feel the losses of this year for many to come. I find myself considering what we might harvest from this wine season, and lessons come quickly to mind.


Wine is best enjoyed in moderation: two glasses per day for men, and one glass a day for women. Practicing moderation is compelling not only to avoid headaches, but because in doing so we reap health benefits of wine, which include antioxidants that promote heart health and longevity. What’s more, enjoyed in moderation, wine makes us happy by stimulating the release of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Too much wine, on the other hand, has the exact opposite results – contributing to depression and chronic disease. 

When it comes to protecting and healing our planet, let’s embrace moderation. With an attitude of moderation, we can reduce our use of plastics, conserve water usage, travel less often and decrease our energy use at home. It may seem daunting to make dramatic changes in our lifestyle, but science shows that modest but meaningful changes done by all can make a difference.  


Talk to a vintner, and you’ll quickly learn how he or she sees his or her entire vineyard as one living organism. Vines speak to each other and have intricate root systems that connect them to the land and the unseen world beneath the soil. Vineyard managers view a disease in one part of the vineyard as a potential threat for every plant. While different varietals and vines require individual attention, the successful farmer realizes that each plant benefits from collectively caring for all.   

The pollution from the profound devastation we’re seeing in California is showing up in my in-laws’ air in the U.K. This year, perhaps more than any other, is showing how interconnected we all are. Viruses care nothing about borders, and air pollution travels across entire oceans on our global wind cycles. We are each individual, and yet our personal health and wellness is connected to that of all others. I feel certain that when we act in the best interest of our neighbors, both local and across the country, we become a better people and a better nation.


Ordinarily, this is a time of celebration in wine country as families toast the end of a season and co-workers and crews exhale after a busy harvest. The merrymaking is not as robust this year. Growers are accustomed to the fact that they can’t entirely control what each year will bring – Mother Nature is far more powerful. It isn’t the first and won’t be the last year that best-laid plans have gone awry. But this understanding makes one capable of looking to the future with optimism. The vines and the people who grow them are resilient. Vines will produce new fruit next year. Farms will be replanted. Having overcome past hardships, vintners and winemakers know how to find small reasons for gratitude now while looking forward to future, better years.

We are resilient, too. I hear conversations in grocery stores and in Zoom chats about how we are appreciating things we once took for granted. If you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion, why not consider opening it this evening? We have much to toast to as we take on each day and look toward a better future.

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)


Popular Posts