The spirit of the vine: lessons from travels in Burgundy

Amy Hirshberg Lederman

I recently spent five days hiking and biking through the Burgundy region of France, where my appreciation for the vineyards and vintners of that region was nothing short of inspirational. The two main grapes of Burgundy, pinot noir and Chardonnay, generate hundreds of varieties of wine for all of life’s special occasions. And while my pedestrian enjoyment of wine certainly does not qualify me as a connoisseur, I finally understand the difference between a grand prix and a grand crux!

Since Biblical times, wine has been known as the “king of beverages” and has been used to celebrate significant moments and holidays in Jewish history and tradition.

The blessing over wine, or Kiddush, comes from the Hebrew word for holiness, kadosh. During the time of the first and second Temple in Jerusalem, every sacrifice offered was accompanied by the drinking of wine as a way to honor, thank and praise God.

We drink wine under the wedding canopy, or chuppah, to celebrate a marriage and at baby namings, bar mitzvahs and each Friday night as we usher in the Sabbath. No seder would be complete without the four cups of wine we pour to commemorate our freedom from Egyptian bondage and the exodus from Egypt. And when we are happy and filled with joy, we lift a glass of wine and toast L’chaim, to life!

I learned in my travels through the Burgundy vineyards that just as parents take pride in their children, Burgundy takes pride in all of her wines and the many people committed to producing them. What has emerged, from the historical cellars of the kings and dukes of France until the present day, is a self-imposed discipline and deep sense of values, identity and purpose that has been handed down through generations of families along with the stories and art of wine making.

The question that intrigued me was this: What caused one vineyard,  seemingly identical to my untrained eye to a neighboring one, to produce wines with different characteristics, tastes and bouquets? While that answer would require a tome rather than a paragraph, one point that was repeatedly emphasized was that when the roots of the plants grow deeper into the soil, they are able to access more varied nutrients that are absorbed by the grapes, resulting in more complex and multifaceted tastes and finishes.

Walking through the vineyards, I was reminded of a truth found in nature: the deeper the roots, the stronger the tree.

This maxim is applicable, not just to forests and vineyards, but to individuals and families as well. The more we know about our past, the deeper our knowledge of our family history, stories, traditions, successes and failures, the more likely we are to be strong and resilient as individuals.

We are the sum of our stories; the telling and retelling of family stories is essential to the creation of our identities and the health of our families.  Stories, both positive and negative, inform our past, guide us in the present and shape our future.  And what we share, or don’t share, will affect future generations as well.  Scientific research supports this idea.

In the 1990s two professors at Emory University, Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, set out to see what helps families stay together. What they learned was this: Families who know a lot about their family stories are more resilient when they face challenges.

Duke and Fivush developed the “DO YOU KNOW” test and taped four dozen families’ dinner table conversations in the summer of 2001.

“Do you know how your parents met? Do you know where your grandparents were born/grew up? Do you know what awards your parents received? Do you know the story of your birth? Do you know of an illness or something terrible that happened in your family?” were a few of the questions they asked.

The “DO YOU KNOW” test turned out to be the single best predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness. And, after 9/11 occurred, Duke and Fivush reassessed the families and discovered that the children who knew more about their family history handled the effects of stress from the tragedy better than those who did not.

Why?  The answer has to do with a child’s sense of belonging to something bigger, of feeling connected and part of something that has a past, present and future.

We can learn a great deal from the vineyard message in building stronger and healthier families. What are some of the roots in your own family tree? What stories can you share with your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to help establish a firmer foundation while ensuring that the values you care about most are imparted to those you love?

The vintners teach us that it is through discipline, dedication and care of what came before that the best wines are created. So too, when we cultivate and share the values, stories and traditions that have helped create our own identity, we create the potential for building healthier and hardier families.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an author, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney who lives in Tucson. Her columns in the AJP have won awards from the American Jewish Press Association, the Arizona Newspapers Association and the Arizona Press Club for excellence in commentary. Visit her website at