Grapes & Memories
Many people see the grape season as a sign of the end of summer, when nights grow cooler and days shorter. Growing up on a San Joaquin Valley farm which produced Thompson Seedless grapes, I felt the coming harvest not as an ending but a beginning.
I liked the rumbling of the gondolas coming down our driveway and the bustle of change. It was the start of a new school year, when everything surrounding me began to feel fresh and new. Those yet to be opened books and clean blackboards awaited me. My mother would drive me to school past vineyard after vineyard of rows smoothed for the coming trays, expecting the grapes to be laid for raisins.
Inevitably, it always seemed to rain on the first day of school, further instilling the feelings of refreshing the earth after a long, productive stone fruit season. The rain, however, was the dread of the raisin farmer whose crop needed the sweltering heat of summer to remain, beating down for a few more days to dry their fruit.
The San Joaquin Valley produces more than 60% of California wine grapes, and according to Marketplaceraisin grapes are grown on 165,000 Valley acres, although this number was double this amount just fifteen years ago. Nut trees have become more profitable, replacing grapes.
Still, it is a grand development since the first commercial grapes were grown in this region in
the 1880s and grape farmers began to edge out the wheat farmer with greater yields. One circular of the time, titled “Fortunes in Vineyards,” showed an illustration of a prosperous Fresno grape farmer’s parlor, his large family enjoying their riches. Next to it the lonely wheat farmer’s meager dwelling.
Landscapes, weather, and profits change. We see these as endings or beginnings, depending on our own sensitivities and sentimentalities. It is this time of year when I miss my family’s vineyard the most and those cool mornings as I began each new school year.