Skip Navigation Links

Must All Grapes be Wrathful?

Submitted by Albin Johnson - August 10, 2006

Being born and raised in Minonk means that somewhere along the line you had to have absorbed a fair share of the towns dust and lots of the rich loam of Woodford County. This came through your eyes, your nose, skin and mouth! I have spaded circular forms for corncribs, pitched peas, snapped sweet corn, detasseled hybrid corn and washed away the grit and dust of riding a combine. Admittedly, my agriculture credentials are weak, but here in suburban Southern California it is "de rigueur" to landscape our homes thoroughly. The lots are moderately small and meant to be easily maintained. Well, almost!! Eleven years ago we planted a well-intentioned grape vine placed so it could be trained to cover our backyard gazebo. We said mantras and prayers that the tiny "fragile" plant would survive in our hardpan clayed soil and eventually wrap around the post and intertwine through the latticed roof. Big mistake!

Grapes are Biblically linked to fertility and procreation and are very hearty. Now, every April I sharpen my clippers, mount a step ladder and start the spring/summer excising of all those little green clusters in order to keep the birds and critters from sampling the fruit because they make a mess of both the supple grape and also the digested ones. The deck, table and chairs become stained. By June, I slow down and halt the process because the Doves and other little birds are nesting in the branches. We love the courtship and birth of our avian friends. The strong new vines and very large leaves provide a safe haven except for the crows that know everything.
Now it's fairly safe to enjoy our leafy "bower" for reading, relaxing and crossword puzzles because all the grapes are gone.

By September/October, the birds are gone and the leaves are dropping. It is time to start the decapitation process. I did my research and know how to do this; frankly you just cut all this years growth from the main trunk and old vines. The remaining dead leaves and vines, some as long as 10 feet are enough to fill a couple of "Green Waste" trash containers.

I, like most all So. Californians, hire gardeners to mow, edge and clean up the leaves which unfortunately means the use of leaf blowers and then most of the dirt is just redistributed. I try to minimize this detail by informing the "gardeners" to use rakes, HA! One can only ponder whether these workers are legal immigrants. Most home owners are too busy commuting to work on crowded freeways, sailing weekends, golfing, biking, tanning plus earning enough money to sent their kids to USC, Stanford, UCLA and Berkeley to spent time behind a mower.

Historically, California has had several influxes of "not always wanted but necessary emigrant immigrant interlopers". There were Asian railroad workers, military personnel in training and awaiting transfer to Pacific theatres during war times and the gold rush, grapes and the1930 depression plus dust storms throughout the great planes. One story deals with the introduction of grapes during the 49er gold rush. Not only did Levi Strauss profit but also entrepreneurs found a real market for grapes to supply fresh fruit to the "paners" and wine for the gold rush community. The more recent 30's were symbolic for the plight of the dust bowl farmers who lost everything and headed west to California. John Steinbeck's fictional story, "The Grapes of Wrath" was considered epic and made into a classic movie. Of course, in today's society of writers and researchers, many feel much of his story could not have happened! DAH? Who cares, it's just plain great reading.

Trivia time: These notes came from the AGMRC Resource Center. Viticulture, (or grape growing) notes Spanish Franciscan Friars originally brought the vines to California in 1769 for producing Sacramental wines. California accounts for 99% of all US grapes and these vineyards cover over 80,000 acres.

The dominant "table grape" is the Thompson Seedless created by the Scottish immigrant William Thompson in 1876 and is used for fresh fruit, wine and raisons. China is the leading producer of fresh market grapes worldwide, Turkey is a distant second. The estimated per person consumption of table fresh grapes by Americans was 7.5 lbs in 2003. They are marketed mainly between May through December.

So, in conclusion, remember that California is much more than trendy fashions, beach bunnies, Disneyland, Hollywood, expensive homes, sport cars, the beautiful Pacific Ocean and fabulous weather. We are also a state that depends on farmers and farm workers. (So there!)