By Elspeth Brown
October is a month steeped in superstition. It is my favorite month of the year because of Halloween. My son is really into Greek mythology right now and has decided he will be dressing up as Poseidon. He thinks that I should dress up as Dionysus, the god of grape harvest, winemaking, fertility, intoxication and insanity. It sounds like my Halloween may be a fun night of partying and chugging vino.
Long practiced are traditions of giving offerings to Dionysus and leaning into superstitions in hopes of a good harvest, a fruitful year and a spectacular vintage. In ancient times, winemakers would hang small masks of Dionysus on the branches of a tree. The wind would rotate the masks, and it was believed that the part of the vineyard the masks faced would become the most fruitful.
Greeks thought there was something very sensual about the essence of wine, which is probably why the first wine glass was believed to be molded from Helen of Troy’s breast. Many years later, Marie Antoinette, a bit bustier than Helen, decided to mold a wine glass from her breast. That’s when the wine glass went from an A-cup to a D-cup, changing its shape completely. Now, if Dolly Parton makes a wine glass, we will all be drunk and dancing around in a coat of many colors.
In parts of Germany, they believe that the last grape harvest must be brought home in a cart pulled by an ox. If not, the harvest will be full of sour grapes. Some believe that when someone dies, the wine in the cellar must be shaken immediately or it will turn to vinegar. The ancient Romans thought spilled wine was an omen of disaster. I am so clumsy I would have been flogged on a regular basis.
While most winemakers no longer offer sacrifices to Dionysus, they still have their superstitions and traditions. At Ancient Peaks Winery, there must always be a five-pound jar of Red Vines candy on the break table during harvest. At Legacy Estate Vineyard, they never wash their vehicles during harvest because it brings on rain. At Storm Wines, owner Ernest Storm purposely stings himself with a bee for good luck. The winemaker at Tolosa Winery starts smoking cigarettes when the first fruit comes in and stops when the last fruit is harvested, not to smoke again till next harvest. But that could just be stress.
Maybe you don’t bless yourself after a black cat crosses your path, but you know you probably think twice before walking under a ladder. Superstitions might seem silly, but if it means the difference between a good bottle of wine and a great vintage, I have no problem with a winemaker who doesn’t wash their underwear until the end of harvest. I admit that I plant lavender for luck and always throw salt over my left shoulder, because why not? Cheers to all the good luck—and good wine—we could use right now!
Elspeth Brown is owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store in Weaverville. Visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.