Vineyard ‘Aphrodisiac Perfume’
The sexy, mysterious aroma of grapevine flowers
Last year about this time, when grapevines were beginning to flower, we wrote about the sex lives of grapes — how they are hermaphroditic, self-pollinating, and the flowers are, according to the decidedly unromantic Jancis Robinson, “unattractive” and “unspectacular.” But what is sex without love? This year we are feeling quite amorous about our just-blossoming (remarkably early, we might add) grapevines.
Why do flowers smell so damn good? According to NYU (and what is probably common knowledge): “Flowers use their scents to attract pollinators, communicate with other plants and for some carnivorous species, lure in food.” But grapevines don’t need to do any of these things — so why would they release any aroma at all? And yet, they do.
“Grape flowers do release a pungent, reputedly aphrodisian, odour from odour glands at the base of the pistil, which is known to attract insects,” admits Robinson. In an essay entitled Vineyard Aphrodisiac Perfume from his excellent collection Vit Lit, the late farmer and poet Joe Mesics writes, “Apparently, eons ago the early environment for Vitus required outside help to distribute pollen. The birds and the bees. When Vitus changed and became, basically, asexual, the nectaries remained, faintly but definitely offering a lovely aroma.” Mesics describes it as “a marvelous and ancient odor originating in the grapevine itself.… It’s lemony, no, lavender, no lighter than that — vanilla? No, much lighter, attractive, sexy gorgeous!”
“You are smelling thousands, no, millions of tiny flowers on vines that quite recently were pruned brown sticks with dusty buds hidden on them,” writes Mesics. “These flowers, tiny and white, yellow in the center, perch on what will become a cluster of delicious grapes. Their aroma is not as strong as a gardenia or lily of the valley. Its fragrance is as light as a breeze, and to really experience it there must be no breeze to carry it away.”
Nicolas Joly, the modern-day prophet of biodynamic farming, who grows grapes and makes wine in the Loire Valley of France, describes in Biodynamic Wine Demystified how the vine’s flowers further demonstrates its close kinship or Dionysian-like relationship with the earth, with which the vine “joins in deepest union, accepting all its forces of gravity.”
“Just look at its flowers, almost concealed in its bosom and often turned earthwards. Plants generally flower at the top, above the leaves. The vine is too drawn towards the earth to do this. To find the flowers almost hidden at its heart one has to move back its stems and leave. But despite their smallness and discreteness we should not misjudge them: they generate a perfume one can detect from several meters away.”
A perfume it doesn’t need to produce for any practical reason but that may make you fall in love? And you wonder what it is that makes wine so magical. The vine, writes Joly “draws its capacity to create a product as noble and complex as wine from the fact that it is so radically atypical.”