Saturday, September 23, 2006

from Vacquieres, France: from field to bucket or bin

Saturday Morning

Quickly, before the rain comes. Jean-Benoit has the car waiting. It isn’t exactly dark still, but it feels early.

I have helped myself to a real Languedoc morning coffee – from a large cereal-size bowl, as is the custom, along with a fresh baguette (how could it be otherwise? it is part of the table setting) and I am sitting down to the computer, wondering if I could write about a harvest if I never witness a single grape being picked this entire week-end long.

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But the rain stubbornly refuses to fall.

The clouds, they are like cotton balls, wavy, I have never seen them like that, Isabelle remarks as we stare at the rapidly moving formations. I can see why they’re saying that when the rains come down, they’ll drench Languedoc good and solid. The sky looks like at any minute it will swallow you, your village and your entire field of grapes. Waves of clouds, waves of vines.

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Jean-Benoit and I drive out into a field, bordered by trees, where he has tentatively set a picking truck to work. Should I continue? – shouts the driver. Can't blame him. I'd be tempted to run for cover if it were me out there, in the field, truck or no truck. Still, the drops are hanging back...

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Go on, go on! Jean-Benoit turns to me and says, I got up early this morning, looked outside and noticed it wasn’t raining yet. Maybe we can get something done. But I told most of the team not to come in.

The driver works his way slowly. The grapes fall in, efficiently, until the bin is full.

A machine does the job well, but only if all the grapes are mature and good and the vines aren’t too old.
And I suppose you don’t get neighbors to come in and stomp with feet to get the juice out anymore?

Jean-Benoit smiles, not knowing that indeed, I have been asked if, when in France, I will stomp up a storm, dirty feet and all. Seems like not something that the European Union would possibly tolerate, but still, we in the States expect a certain degree of quaintness from those European types, no?

These days, no feet touch the grapes, but tomorrow the two villages – ours and Corconne are having a race in the fields. It’s called La Foulée des Vendanges, after the stompers of the past.

We visit a neighbor’s field – he has taken the chance and sent out a handful of pickers. I watch, take photos, answer questions. Though explaining Ocean to pickers whose language is neither English nor French (they are Moroccan) is a challenge.

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This particular vineyard is a father and son operation. The son is assisting dad. Soon, the dad will be assisting the son. It’s how it works here, I’m told.

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The sky is still holding it in. Jean-Benoit and I drive toward his own fields of aging vines. I have always loved these vieille vignes best. In contrast to the tall vines that climb high and enjoy the air and the sun and the movement of a gentle wind, these older guys are bunched together in communities of clusters, all tightly held against a thick and beautifully twisted trunk.

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A vintner knows what to taste for. We’ll be picking these soon.

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In another field belonging to the Chateau de Lascaux, the tall Mouverdre grapes are also almost ready.

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Jean-Benoit surveys the vines...

Another day and they will be perfect. Their skin holds so much flavor even now!

What a difference a day makes. To a vintner. To me, the taste is fantastic as we speak. I’d have you picking while the going’s good. That’s why I am left to take pictures and not bottle wine. I’d probably bottle it when it is still grape juice.

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...he samples, eyes each bunch critically, nods his head.

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fall colors are showing up around the edges

My taste buds are about to undergo some training. That’s forthcoming. Come back in a few hours. I need to pause for a dejeuner en famille. Garlic roasted meat with crusty potatoes, salad, cheese and the very excellent red Chateau de Lascaux, Noble Pierre 2002. Oh, and flan, rhubarb compote and almond cakes for dessert.

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