When I was a teenage boy I became fascinated by the wine making process. At that time there were catalogs that sold small one gallon plastic wine making kits. I started small but my passion for wine making grew. I remember writing a letter once to Ernest and Julio Gallo and in that letter I asked them where I should go to college if I wanted to become a master wine maker. I was surprised when I received a reply.My wine making continued and the small plastic wine kit gave way to a large 13 gallon wooden barrel. Eventually however like so many childhood dreams this hobby was replaced by other interests, and so my wine making came to an end. (That old barrel now has a glass top on it and is being used as an end table in my living room.)
Having made hundreds of gallons of wine of all different types, cherry, dandelion, grape, apple, champagne, and more, I have produced delicious wines and others that turned to vinegar. Sometimes, no matter how careful I was with every step of the wine making process, something went wrong and my hope for a delicious new wine became a disappointment when it turned sour.This reminds me of a verse from the Bible when in Isaiah 5:4 we read: “What more could be done for my vineyard that I did not do? Why, when I waited for the crop of grapes, did it yield rotten grapes?” Just before this, in verse two, we read that the owner of the vineyard chose a fertile hillside, spaded the ground, cleared the stones and planted the choicest grapes.
After doing all he could to assure the perfect grapes for an excellent vintage he was disappointed to end up with rotten fruit.Grapes, wine, and the wine making process are used throughout the Bible to make various points. I have read that Sacred Scripture uses bread to represent all that human beings need for their daily life.Water represents what it takes to make the earth fertile and it is the fundamental gift that makes life possible. Wine however, expresses the excellence of creation. Psalm 104:15 tells us that God made wine to “gladden their hearts.”The master wine maker must have enormous patience. As I said above, he must have fertile soil, plant good grapes, have adequate rain fall, and then he must wait in anticipation fora bountiful harvest. After harvest the grapes are pressed and placed in the barrel with yeast and the fermentation process begins. If all goes well, the result is a delicious wine.
Likewise we humans are God’s grapes and He is the wine master. He placed us in the fertile soil that His Son Jesus Christ has made ready for us. Our life is the fertilization process. God now waits patiently to see if we will become a choice wine or sour vinegar.I started off talking about my wine making experiences. Continuing in this analogy let’s compare what can go wrong during the fermentation process of wine making to what goes wrong with us as God’s grapes during our fermentation process here on earth. So what are some of the common causes of problems during the wine making process?Fermentation Won’t Start: If the fermentation won’t start it could be the yeast. However, seldom is the yeast so old that it is outright dead.As Christians we are called by God to be the yeast that leavens all of the environments in which we live for Christ. Just like the yeast in wine making, we are never too old to make a difference for Christ. Let’s get started today.
Overly Sweet Wine: This is by far the most common wine problem and it is the bane of the beginning winemaker. This problem can be addressed in two ways. The wine maker can restart the fermentation process to convert any residual sugar into alcohol or the sweet wine can be blended in with dry wine to create a new more balanced wine.Perhaps we as Christians need to “be restarted” too. The term “born again” within Christian circles can have many meanings but most likely all Christians are in need of some degree of spiritual rebirth. Are there things that you need to be doing to re-energize your faith life?
The process of blending sweet wine with dry wine makes me think of the importance of living out our Christian journeys in small groups that come together frequently. It is good for us to remember that in God’s wine we are not the only grape in the barrel. By carrying out our Christian life in these small Christian groups each member tends to impact the other group members so as to bring a healthy balance to the group and keep everyone on the path to be a choice wine for God.
Stuck Fermentation: Occasionally the fermentation starts but then it stops prematurely. The two most common causes for this are a lack of nutrients or acid. When fermentation sticks, you need to do some tests to determine exactly which one is the problem.If we are stuck in our faith, we too most likely need to do some analysis and personal reflection. In my own life I have seen dramatic changes by taking the time to go on week long retreats. I especially have benefited from silent retreats. Maybe the nutrient that we are lacking is insufficient time spent reading theHoly Scriptures. Perhaps we need some one-on-one time with our minister, priest or spiritual director to gain someone else’s insight as to why we are stuck.
In the end, we must be careful during our fermentation process. When Isaiah spoke of God’s vineyard he said: “He waited for it to produce grapes but it yielded wild grapes,” and without the right nutrients and yeast we can become like vinegar rather than wine.Are you living your life in such a way to assure God a delicious vintage and choice wine? If not what can you change today?Dear God, help me to be a delicious and pleasing wine for you. You are the master grower and wine maker. Send your Holy Spirit to help me in my fermentation process. Amen.