How One Woman Found God from a Grape-Grower in Napa Valley

Have you ever felt a disconnect when you read the Bible? 

Have you often had difficulty understanding the message with your head but failing to understand with the same poignancy with your heart?

If you find yourself struggling to answer the question with a convicting ‘yes,’ read on since you are not alone.

Here’s Margaret Feinberg, a godly woman gifted with such discernment and wisdom.

The context by which the Bible is based on is one of an agrarian culture which starkly contrasts with today’s suburban culture filled with Costco, Safeway, and Fred Meyers.

In her unquenchable thirst for knowing more of God and the exact meaning of the Scripture, she embarked on a peculiar journey, in which she literally crossed thousands of miles in United States to bridge the gap between her head and heart. For instance, she decides to visit Oregon to spend time with shepherd, Nebraska to observe farmers, Colorado to learn from beekeepers, and California to study from vintners.

Now this is what amazes me. Feinberg says, “If spending time with vintners allowed me to grab hold of one more layer of truth or depth about our wondrous God, how could I not go? How could I not share what I learned along the way with everyone I knew?” 

Why Vintners, Vines, and Vineyards?

Feinberg shares a story about her journey to Napa Valley. She wanted to gain a first-hand experience from a vintner’s perspective on what Jesus really meant by abiding in the vine. Before I continue, you may ask yourself what on earth does learning more about God has to do with vintners, vines, and vineyards? The fact of the matter is the Bible is filled with “three hundred mentions of vines and vineyards in the Bible.” In fact, Feinberg remarks vines and vineyards provide a backdrop to some of the Scriptures most memorable stories.” For instance Balaam and his donkey encounter an angel in a vineyard. Elijah’s spiritual battle with followers of Baal takes place on the top of Mt. Carmel, aka “vineyard of God.” Isaiah portrays Israel as God’s vineyard. Feinberg superbly comments how the loss of vineyard indicates a sign of judgment where fruitfulness signals God’s restoration, promise, and blessing. In Genesis, Joseph is known as the “fruitful vine” which is interesting because the vine was part of a dream where Joseph interested for the chief cupbearer. In the New Testament, Jesus calls himself as a vine, inviting us, sons and daughters, to remain in him order produce fruit.

Lesson #1: Respond to Where You’ve Been Planted

Feinberg in her book Scouting the Divine shares her drastically different experiences with two vintners. One from Napa valley and the other from Fresno, California. The vintner from Fresno focused on techniques and strategies which enabled “maximum production.” That is, thousands of acres of grapes in Fresno were undergirded by sophisticated machinery and irrigation systems to prune the vines and fertilize the soil. Many of these grapes dried in the hot California sun in order to become raisons, grace juice or wineries.

On the other hand, her experience in Napa Valley was very different. The vineyard was incomparably smaller than Fresno’s. The goal for the vintner in Napa was interested not in maximum production but rather the “character and the flavor of each grape.” All the work was done manually and the vintner ensured the grapes were touched several times and pruned the vines to ensure the grapes received the perfect amount of sunlight.

It is unquestionable that the two vintners were passionate about growing grapes, but how their approach in cultivating grapes were drastically different. Here, Feinberg makes a sobering remark; “Like viticulture, caring for God’s people and shaping culture in a meaningful way is a labor of love. And each leader’s labor of love will be very different, but no less important to God’s work.” She challenges us to think, “What kind of vineyard has God called you to cultivate? Are you in an area like Fresno, where you will cultivate thousands and thousands of acres where the fruitfulness will be overwhelming at times? Or have you been placed in area like Napa Valley, where your acreage is limited, but the character and distinctiveness of your work are unmistakable?”

So this is question what really got me: “The question we must ask ourselves is not, ‘how big is the area God has called me to cultivate? Rather, How do I best cultivate the area God has given me”?

My perspective has shifted with this question. I always sought for an answer of how grand God will be using me for His purpose, which I still believe is an important, valid question. However, pondering exclusively on this question without thinking much about how to cultivate the current land I am in will result in simply no action. I know God is preparing me in this city of Portland to equip me to have a greater impact to others. I just know that though I can’t explain it logically. I know God has entrusted me with talents and strengths that I could use impacting a large group of others. However, success is not an overnight experience. Most successful people have started with humble beginnings where they learned about leadership in the trenches. That is what I feel as of now, which I humbly accept and am grateful for.

Lesson #2: Embrace a Long-term Perspective

How long would it take for you if you were to start your career as a vintner to harvest your first crop? Feinberg surprised me that it almost takes four years to bring the first harvest. The first three years are the most important as you are trying to establish a good trunk and root system. After three years you may alter the way you train your plant without doing any sort of damage to the plant and hence you pick the best method for cultivating the vine.

Feinberg mentions that most vineyards in Napa valley won’t reach a breakeven point for their investment until year 15, 18 or beyond. When Jesus says that He is the vine, we are the branches, this isn’t a short-term approach. Feinberg makes a comment that have reverberated me with all the time. She would sometimes look at her own life and wonder “Why am I not more fruitful? And why does pruning have to hurt so much? Why does cultivating a healthy crop take so long? God, our vintner, understands that fruitfulness comes at a certain time and He is being very patient with me. I’ve written before how mastery of talent is a result of what Malcolm Gladwell calls 10,000 hours rule. You spend 4 hours each day for 10 years, and you’ll achieve a level of mastery over the subject. Often times, I find myself forgetting this formula and asking for immediate returns and seeking gratification. This is a hard lesson for me to be patient with myself. But, I think this is something I must surrender to God as we don’t know the result. As Proverbs 21:31 says “the horse is made ready for the battle, but victory rests on the Lord.” The harvest of all of your efforts may not pay dividends until decades away. I know this doesn’t sound encouraging but we know that God will use our fruitfulness for his glory.

Lesson #3: Understand the Power of Adversity

Feinberg in her journey recalls how pruning is such an important process in cultivating grapes. It exposes lights to the grapes which they need to grow. One vintner said, “If a vine is not pruned, the quality of the fruit goes way down,” one vintner said.  As we think about fruitfulness, we often realize that it comes through pain and adversity. Only through this experience are we able to surrender ourselves to God and have Him take our driver’s seat. Who enjoys suffering and pain?

Think about all the vicissitudes in your current life. I know God has been pruning me all the time. Interpersonal difficulties, loneliness, cultural and language barriers, psychological deficiencies are several things that come to my mind now. Of course, in hindsight I can fully appreciate and see the big picture and thank God for His divine providence and grace. However, in the midst of the “crucible” I couldn’t understand why God has put in me in these excruciating situations. When you hear words “abide in me” what images conjure up? Interestingly, the best soil for vine isn’t rich smooth soil but rockery stone filled land. Renowned places like Château Lafite are three-fourths gravel. So I encourage you to think about what has been the greatest source of adversity for you and how did it shape you to become the person who you are now.

Lesson #4: Avoid Drunkenness

Interestingly, the greatest threat for success as a vintner isn’t bad weather or natural disasters. It is temptation, namely temptation to imbibe excessively. We are keenly aware of the intoxicating power of alcohol in our lives. Scripture warns against the abuse of wine. It’s simple. Intoxication makes people stupid. There are more than 75 biblical references on drinking alcohol. Noah became drunk; the result was immorality and family trouble. Lot was so drunk he didn’t even know he was doing; this led to immorality. The book of Proverbs says that drunkenness leads to poverty. Feinberg suggest that it isn’t wine that should the only source of drunkenness. This hit me hard like a brick.

Are you intoxicated with bad habits, inappropriate behaviors, failure or even success? Each of us is different and we all have frailties in life. What most tempts you and what specific steps can you take to overcome this?

If you are interested in learning more about the Margaret’s book, click here for more resources.