Every homestead requires some sort of a cash crop. Considering this Nancy and I spent a considerable amount of time investigating various enterprises that might be a good fit for us here at Timber Butte. In the end we landed on the idea of establishing a small test vineyard on some rock terraces I had built next to the root cellar behind the house. We learned that Timber Butte sat at a pretty high elevation (4000 feet) for a productive vineyard, but we also knew that we had other characteristics which were highly favorable for such a venture. We had ample south facing slopes that received long uninterrupted days of sunlight, adequate soil conditions, and a consistent flow of air. We also knew that although the summer months were long and warm, the winter months experienced temperatures that plummeted below zero for sometimes weeks at a time. Not knowing for sure how grapes would do under these extreme conditions we decided to put in a small test vineyard of fifty cabernet franc vines and observe their vitality over the course of a couple of seasons rather than put too much on the line right away. (Cabernet franc is a variety that does well in colder climates). After planting those first fifty vines in the spring of 2010 we put in a second fifty the following spring with the help of our kids. Things went better than expected and although we weren’t looking to be able to pick grapes for at least three years we ended up with a small but encouraging harvest several weeks ago only days before our first fall freeze.
We knew little about grapes or vineyards but the learning curve became both energizing, fascinating and fun. Over the past few years our vacation times have been invested in visiting vineyards throughout California, Washington, Oregon and southern Idaho. We’ve read books, studied online and made inquires of anyone we could find with knowledge and experience. Through all of our efforts we’ve learned valuable skills concerning such things as pruning techniques, watering systems and trellising.
In addition to learning the elementary skills of a vintner our investigation has illuminated to us why the Bible so prolifically uses the metaphors of vineyards, grapes and wine as an allegorical picture of mankind’s relationship with God. Jesus teaching in John 15 may be one of greatest examples of this where he said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
Working in our first small vineyard has taught us many parallel truths between the life of a grape and our own. Some of these simple truths help me understand why God allows me to live in the tension of blessing and struggle. It’s a known fact that grapevines do best when they are forced to struggle. Fertilization which other plants demand will actually set back the growth of a vine; grapes do best in rocky and arid soils. In the same way too much water in the later days of summer will cause the vine to die back after the first hard freeze of winter. In my desire to pamper my vines I’ve had to force myself not to irrigate my thirsty plants during the hot dry months of August and September. Radical pruning is another necessity for the vine if it is to produce an abundant functional harvest. Grapes require a strong breeze for pollination and long days of sunlight for the fruit to fully ripen. In a vineyard, everywhere you look there are powerful analogies of the human struggle for spiritual maturity. For reasons like these I feel God’s presence as I labor in my vineyard both working the soil and tending the vines. I find it a good place to be at this time of my life after laboring some thirty years as a pastor in the church we have so lovingly called the” Vineyard Christian Fellowship”. Although our first harvest was very small it was an encouraging sign of God’s ultimate intention for the future of his Vineyard.