blackberry wine label

My Blackberry Wine

I like wine.

I’m not a connoisseur…a critic…nor an expert. I’m more of an enthusiast…one step removed from a wino only because the color, clarity, body, aroma and taste are more important to me than the alcohol content.

Not only do I enjoy drinking wine, but I also enjoy making wine. As a hobby, wine making is a nice mixture of creativity and science…with a healthy dose of patience and hopeful expectancy thrown in.

Although I’ve enjoyed making a few classic grape wines, I mostly enjoy making wines from local produce such as blackberries, peaches, or plums.  The challenge is to produce a wine that captures the essence of the fruit…a taste of summer extracted into a bright clear liquid bursting with color, aroma and flavor that are the essence of the fruit from which they are derived…carefully preserved in a bottle.

When I give a bottle of wine as a gift, I’m not just giving a bottle of wine. I’m giving the gift of my patient hard work in meticulously cleaning and sterilizing all of the equipment, washing and preparing the fruit, extracting the juice, monitoring the fermentation process, carefully racking the wine through multiple stages of clarification, and bottling…all for the purpose of allowing the recipient to experience the essence of the fruit in liquid form.

When I taste my blackberry wine, I expect the aroma and flavor to pop with the unmistakable essence of blackberries. No, it’s not the same as eating a blackberry, nor should it be.  The juice has been extracted out from the pulp.  The acidity has been reduced by diluting with water.  Sugar has been added to replace loss in the water dilution.  Tannins have been added.  The sugar has mostly been converted to alcohol.  The clarification process has left a bright, clear, deep red liquid. These are fundamental chemical and physical changes…for the purpose of drawing out the essence of the fruit.

Hope Watermelon Festvial in Hope, Arkansas

Hope Watermelon Festival

In my efforts to extract the essence of favorite local produce, I would truly be remiss if I excluded watermelons. Hope, Arkansas is the self-proclaimed Watermelon Capitol of the World.  Local farmers take pride in producing excellent melons.  And chilled fresh watermelon happens to be a favorite of mine!

Southwest Arkansas summers routinely see temperatures on the range of 110 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity close to 100%…heat exhaustion is a very real life-safety concern.  On a hot muggy August evening, few things are more refreshing than a crisp slice of chilled watermelon.  One bite of that sweet delicious melon heart bursts with refreshing flavor and rejuvenating liquids.

It’s good, y’all!  🙂

Needless to say, I do make and enjoy watermelon wine.


A freshly bottled batch of watermelon wine

My first experience making watermelon wine was a bit disconcerting, though. The juice starts out a nice pink rosy color, as one would expect.  And, of course, the juice tastes just like the sweet melon meat from which it is extracted.  However, as the clarification process removes all the pulp particles, a pale green liquid is left.  My first taste of watermelon wine was not at all what I expected.  I was looking forward to that burst of flavor from a crisp chilled melon heart.  What I tasted, instead, was melon rind.  Initially, I didn’t like it at all.  I now enjoy watermelon wine, but caution novices on what to expect.  Although I sweeten the wine a little, the color and flavor that come through are still the rind.  It is an acquired taste…closer to watermelon rind pickles than that fresh burst of sweet flavor in a bite of melon heart.

It turns out the essence of watermelon is the rind.

What is the essence of a man?

When the lifelong processes of sorrow mixed with joy, love mixed with loss, and disappointments mixed with accomplishments combine with natural aging processes to extract a man’s essence, what falls out as the precipitation of pulp particles, and what is extracted as the clarified essence?

I remember, as a child, admiring my Grandpa Mitchell as an anointed Bible teacher, while also timidly withdrawing from his harsh tone, impatience, and severe expectations…children are to be seen and not heard.  Although I admired him, I was also frightened of him.  Yet, as Grandpa aged…as he lost his beloved wife…as he suffered strokes and diminishing health…as he lost his independence and increasingly relied on others for assistance…he also lost that impatient edge.

Grandpa’s impatience and strict expectations precipitated out with his other losses, leaving behind an essence of patient love, grace, and thankfulness.

As the Master Vintner monitors the processes of my life experiences, I pray that when the process is complete, He will find my essence to be a reflection of His own character…His own image.

Your thoughts?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring, Trading Good  ]


16 thoughts on “Essence

  1. I loved the discourse on winemaking! Very, very cool.

    The essence of a man…that is a tough one. As I get older I am not sure I HAVE an essence; the individuality and ‘character’ I prized highly have become apparent as artifacts of attitude, and what I “am”, in essence, has become chimerical.

    it may be that what I am is what I do, how I relate to God and to the world in which I find myself., Nothing less, but nothing more.

    It does fit in with the “reflection”: analogy, because the reflective surface is, by necessity, flat. It may cover something deeper; it could be the still surface of the pond, for example. But its essence, in its reflective function, is still that flat surface.

    This will have me thinking through the week.

    • “…it may be that what I am is what I do, how I relate to God and to the world in which I find myself…”

      I think that’s a big part of our essence…or at least how our essence is revealed.

      Going back to the wine analogy, this might represent the flavor of the wine, for example. But the wine also has color, clarity, body and bouquet. No one of those character aspects is the essence…but each flows out from the essence and shows us something about the essence of the wine…and therefore of the fruit from which the wine is derived.

      Good thoughts, Andrew! Thank you!

  2. As a recovering alcoholic, I went through my “whine” phase; I also loved your description of the process of creating something I love, though (except for rare occasions when offered as part of communion) something I won’t drink again until I’m doing so in Paradise. Since I don’t have an “off” switch with regard to most addictive things, please gift my bottle to me when we get home. 🙂

    As to the essence of this geezer? I fall back to the familiar in a lot of ways; as Dickens said of Marley’s ghost, “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you…”, or, as Lewis pointed out, so many things I want to think are truly me may be nothing more than a higher than average tolerance or ability to absorb bad news (or, worse, an ability to live in denial), and things I thought tangentially about (or worse, not at all) will come to be seen as my core.

    I’ve been doing the recovering lifestyle for 32 years now, but when I am gut-level honest with myself and others? The 32 years is a measure of abstinence from chemical oblivion and grosser self-destructive behaviors – my pride and selfishness are in far better position for me to see and do what is within my power to do about them, but they are still with me. I love that God has rescued me, but it is definitely a matter of continuing to work out my salvation in fear and trembling, even as I learn to trust and rest in God’s working out the rest of the story.

    Great post, Joe! Thanks!!

    • “I love that God has rescued me, but it is definitely a matter of continuing to work out my salvation in fear and trembling, even as I learn to trust and rest in God’s working out the rest of the story.”

      Amen! I love how you expressed this, Rick.

      And about that bottle of wine when we get home…I vote we just forget my meager attempts and enjoy the bounty of our Master Vinter. I hear He makes and serves the best wine! 🙂

  3. I’m not a partaker of wine, although growing up wine was used in our communion service. I have been through a couple of wine tastings and did find one once that I did like, but by the time I had been too all of the tables couldn’t remember where I found the one I liked. I know that a little wine can be quite healthy, but never developed a taste for it.

    The Lord knows me inside and out. Perhaps that is why he didn’t give me a taste for wine. The process though is quite similar. There has to be a relationship between the maker and the finished product. Allowing the Creator to do the work and leaving my own desires aside will end in a harmonious outcome. Showing others Christ’s love and his light working in me is how I would like to be remembered. I am afraid that I fall short of this very often, but he has allowed me to wake up another day and he will continue working until the day of completion.

    • “Showing others Christ’s love and his light working in me is how I would like to be remembered.”

      Same here, Brenda!

      I know I have more than my fair share of flaws and would rather be honest about them than cover them up. But what I hope to be remembered for has nothing to do with me…I want to be remembered for the light of His radiance somehow touching someone else’s life thru His work in mine.

      Thank you, my friend!

  4. I definitely love, love fresh watermelons in the summer so maybe I’d be a candidate for liking watermelon wine. 🙂 Never tried it.

    I’ve often wondered (and okay, worried) what my essence would be if I end up with dementia. Would my true self be cranky and complaining or nice and gentle? I join you in praying that my essence will be more of Christ’s own character. Great post, Joe. Wasn’t sure where you were heading at first. ha. But as always, you have a great insight to share.

    • Lisa,
      I’ve known a few people with dementia and so far I have seen an extension of their own personality. Gruff people are more so and laid back people lean more that way. I’m no expert, but I suppose someone who was hiding who they really were could really scare folks. I don’t think you should worry. I haven’t had any family that went that route, but did have an elderly friend that just went into assisted living. She can get pretty ornery, but she has been that way since I’ve known her. : )

    • “I join you in praying that my essence will be more of Christ’s own character.”

      The best part is knowing this is a prayer our heavenly Father is both able and willing to provide…it is, in fact, the very reason for Christ’s coming!

      Thank you, Lisa, for hanging with me until I got around to the main point of the post! 🙂

  5. I was raised in a non-drinking family and my husband and I are at a church that doesn’t allow staff to imbibe (yep, kinda legalistic environment, to say the least!). I don’t feel it is wrong to drink, but do feel uncomfortable with drinking to excess. That’s more my “counselor” concerns with the addiction issues that I see hurting so many families. I’m intrigued by the process of making wine though. It sounds like a lot of fun and might make it taste all the more appealing when it includes your hard work and preferential tweaks. I like that you’ve wrapped this in a metaphor for the “essence of man.” And I’m glad to hear that your grandfather mellowed–like a good wine! Merry Christmas to you, Joe and your family!

    • Yes, I’m also uncomfortable with excessive drinking, and understand the concerns with addiction. In fact, while going through divorce I refused even a sip of alcohol for almost a year, out of concern that it might become too welcome a sedative for emotional pain.

      Thank you, Beth, for the encouraging comment…and CONGRATULATIONS on finishing your new e-book!

      Have a very Merry Christmas with your family, my friend!

  6. I have never been a wine drinker but after moving to California and getting to know several ladies I have learned to like some wine. It has to been cold, fruity with bubbles. If it’s not sweet enough I will put Sprite in it to give it sweetness and bubbles. My friends tell me I am really have to taste appetite for wines..oh well, I can get cold, sweet and fruity with my Sprite. Love the application Joe…I do pray I have aged into a mellow smooth taste for my Savior.

    • Ah…a wine spritzer lover!

      See, here’s why I’ll never be a wine connoisseur. A connoisseur would be offended at the idea of ‘ruining’ a good wine by adding sprite. But as a wine enthusiast, I say good for you in finding how you most enjoy wine!

      Thank you, Wise Heart! Have a Merry Christmas!

  7. Joe, I love how you wove the wine-making into the essence of man. Beautifully done!

    An interesting observation I brought up to my therapist long ago was how my paternal grandmother became even more agitated and frightening as her dementia progressed, and how my father in law lost his gentleness and became gruff and unpleasant.

    She explained to me that as we age, our ‘filters’ become thinner -especially with dementia- and that our true selves (or our essence) becomes more evident. So in effect, the personality we see when someone is drunk, has dementia, or are otherwise impaired so the filters are not working is their true essence.

    This explains why some people are scary drunks and some are funny. And why some with dementia are sweet and kind, while others are crotchety.

    • Yes, I’ve seen the same thing…where as people age certain characteristics become more pronounced.

      I’ve noticed in myself, when I am tired or stressed I tend to be more grumpy, less patient, and less compassionate. When I’m tired it is much more difficult for me to take the time to try to understand another person’s perspective.

      This is a concern in that it makes me wonder to what extent ‘grumpy’ may be part of my essence.

      But I know God knows my heart’s desire to be more like Him…and I can trust Him to make my essence become His image.

      Thank you, Denise! Happy New Year!

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