Springtime in central Virginia used to be special.
The outdoors was welcomed into your house again as you threw open doors and windows at most any time of day.
Winter birds would ramp up their singing as they prepared to leave you and, before long, you felt summoned to leave your home on foot to become reacquainted with your country road. Along the way, wildflowers trembled in the wind, and cows with their noses pressed into the turf imperceptibly crossed a greening pasture.
But things just haven’t been the same since the new neighbor moved in. New, around here, is defined as having arrived within the past 20 years.
In fact, I find that the country life has become, well, overrated.
The fresh air, the occasional moo, the few-and-far-between passersby have all been relegated to the pages of history.
Welcome to my new world. Welcome to the new bucolic. My new neighbor is a vineyard.
Imagine, if you will, a spring night so still and clear you might hear the soft quavering of a nearby owl while you easily pinpoint the star you named after yourself. A night like this may seem a wonderment to some, but to the vineyard owner, not so much. To him, the heat of the day has an all-too-direct path to the chill void of space potentially subjecting his vines, by the next morning, to freezing temperatures.
Mitigating this possibility, he fires up the rotor, hoping the great fan can create enough air movement to save the newly sprouted, tender grape shoots.
There ends the peace and quiet of the night. The waves of compression traveling up the stream valley shared by our properties are low-frequency in nature. They pass through the house giving all objects, including me, a startle.
But the lack of a good night’s rest sometimes is not the only inconvenience of being a neighbor of a vineyard.
Gone are the days of the occasional drive-by of a local in a pickup or an old car. This dirt-road neighborhood has been elevated. Now, modern vehicles with well-dressed people regularly appear and are frequently noted by the sound of tires running over gravel, on their way to yet another event or wine tasting.
At some more-special-than-other events, celebratory fireworks may be heard after dark.
Speaking of explosives, an occasional firearm discharge may not be an unusual occurrence in these parts outside of hunting season, but an un-deer-fenced vineyard guarantees more of them thanks to special hunting permits for agribusiness.
The supplanting of peace and quiet may be something that must be borne as the world fills in with people.
But, loss of ambiance notwithstanding, a neighbor whose house is located close to the vines (thankfully, mine is not) can become a captive in his own home — a prisoner of the vineyard war against insects, fungi and weeds. This conflict against these natural forces is prosecuted using a remarkable variety of pesticides applied with remarkable frequency.
Vineyards are magnets for maladies. Every day of the growing season, the owner is being informed by the natural world that his plants do not belong here. Nature is using its tools to repair the land by ridding it of this nonnative, poorly adapted monoculture of vines.
For those living adjacent to the vineyard, the war on nature is visited upon them when stepping outside their house into the dampness of a summer morning. It can be a bit like entering J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mordor: “The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume” (in the Black Land).
Your body knows how to process the soiled air from a fragrant cowpie. But that from the business end of a spray nozzle (which your body cannot break down, but instead accumulates) tends to give you the malady.
Virginia’s new darlings of agriculture are not only here to stay but also are increasing their farmland foothold year by year. Vineyard creep is real and, by the looks of things, is coming to a cow pasture near you.
So the next time a glass of wine from one of the 6.5 million bottles sold last year in this commonwealth is offered, make a toast to the neighbors of vineyards because, as Winston Churchill said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
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