Writing and fermentation

I’m developing a close personal relationship with Petit Verdot. Specifically, our 3/4 ton that’s fermenting right now.

Punching down the grapesEach morning this week, I’ve driven in the early rainy dark to the winery to punch down the grapes. While the yeast eat the grape sugar and make alcohol, they release carbon dioxide, which pushes the berries and skins up to make a cap on the surface (think of a thick grape carpet). Every 12 hours, that cap needs to be punched down–broken up and submerged. But it rises back up fast. It heaves and roils.

The fermentation is like a living thing–it is a living thing. And it’s a hybrid creature–part vegetable (the grapes) and part animal (the yeast). It feels like a miracle.

I take its temperature and measure the sugar levels (the brix) to see how the fermentation’s going. We wait until the brix drop far enough that we can press the juice off the skins. We wait.

How is this like writing?

We’ve all heard the common and very good advice to let your writing rest–let it ferment, wait to look at it.

But writing, especially a poem, is also like that hybrid creature. At first, it might be animal or vegetable or mineral–or any combination. The trick I think is to avoid making it one or the other too soon, fitting it into the label, the direction or outcome or form we think it should be.

Sometimes, I want to understand what I’m doing, bottle it up and feel confident it’s done. The Petit Verdot’s reminding me to resist that urge, to let the poem become its own magic.

Something to consider the next time you enjoy a glass of wine.

Happy Friday!

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2 comments

  1. Jane Chang’s avatar

    I’m going to print this out. I think this may be one of the biggest problems with my writing – deciding when I BEGIN what it should be. Much later (sometimes years) I’ve looked back over things I’ve written and seen clearly what it should have been. Thanks, Joannie!

  2. joannie’s avatar

    Glad you found it helpful, Jane!

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