At last… they warned me about the back ache, they didn’t tell me about my knees…
Breakfast at 7:30, then out and to Eschezaux at 8:00, and started picking. First thing we were given a pair of secaturs and told to hang on to them all week long – if we lost them, our pay would be docked €5. Then we were assigned rows, and a porter was assigned to gather from several rows. The porter walks back and forth in the middle, and if we needed to empty our baskets we called out “pannier”, if he was getting bored and wanted some attention HE would call out “pannier”… We tended to work together, the same pickers with the same porter all day – it’s how you found your place in line, was to look for your porter, Raoul for my group.
I am the only non-french person in a gang of about 30 today, and they are really kind to me, patiently speaking slowly – I am thoroughly ashamed of my french, must do better for next year. One man, Jean-Marc, who I gather is rather a veteran, has worked with me in adjacent rows all day, and been really helpful – if I fall behind, he doubles back and cuts my row to help me catch up, and I can show him bunches I’m not sure of, and he tells me if it’s ok or not. Anne’s children are there – very humiliating to see a ten-year-old moving at twice your own speed and confidence – as well as several teenage friends of her older two children, and the others seem to be relatives, friends, and long term veterans.
Had to learn the difference between pourriture and confiture – if it’s just a bit dried up looking, that’s ok, that’s confiture – and Anne popped one into my mouth to prove just how good they taste in that state, very concentrated. The pourriture is the grey-greeney fluffy stuff – and that’s no good. There was a fair degree of it in Eschezaux, but we edited the grapes as we cut them into the buckets, then they were sorted by the pro, Patrick, on a table on the truck as the porters dumped out their panniers, and then they were checked over one more time back at the domaine before they went into the de-stemmer (further detail below).
Glorious day, clear, sunny, cold to start, air cool all day but warm sun, couldn’t ask for better weather. Very EU rules (and certainly sensible in this situation too) about taking mid morning and mid afternoon breaks, stopping for a massive lunch at noon back at the domaine, then stopping at 6:00. Mind you, the long lunch at noon, two hours, also allows time for the morning’s grapes to get sorted and processed into the vats and still allow the people doing that to grab a bite to eat. Not a soul amongst the vines after 6:00, they were all climbing into trucks to go home. Madame Gros, Anne’s mother, together with her cousin Jacqueline, are doing all the cooking, bless them, and also coming out to the vineyards to cut.
After lunch, we finished Eschezaux, then went to Clos de Vougeot and started there – will need to finish tomorrow. Several noticeable differences in terroir: first, from a strictly selfish point of view, the soil is stonier in Eschezaux – I was grateful for the padding to the knees provided by a bit of grass between vines in Clos de Vougeot, albeit shame about the thistles. The other thing that struck me was that the grapes were a bit different – more clusters made up of small clusters, and generally smaller grapes than Eschezaux. Also a real determination to defy gravity – largely successful – I got a little confused looking for the stem to cut, till I got the hang of the fact it was at the BOTTOM of the cluster in Clos de Vougeot as a rule. The other thing was that there were the odd few green grapes, a different variety, I think, and they were added in. Also almost no pourriture – Anne had said earlier that Eschezaux was the worst, the other vineyards are much better, and certainly in Clos de Vougeot you could cut and pretty much dump in the bucket without the the meticulous examination needed earlier in Eschezaux.
I have to say, grapes are truly beautiful things. The aroma was intoxicating, a little smokey and concentrated-grape-scented, and the colours in the sun, whether fully ripe opaque blue black or unripe still slightly translucent plum red-purple … despite the bruised knees and sore back, I am enchanted.
At the end of the day, being a nosy parker, while everyone else dispersed, I walked round to the cave to see what was going on. I ended up climbing up on the sorting table to help. Sorting routine is: as we cut out in the vineyards, we dump on the ground unripe bunches, or cut out any patches of pourriture or unripe sections of otherwise good bunches. Fully ripe, the grapes are almost like blueberries – very navy blue with a black undertone and sometimes a silvery blush. Our buckets are dumped into the big panniers which the porters carry on their backs, which in turn are dumped into big red bins on the back of a tractor trailer. Patrick does the brunt of the fine sorting standing on the truck while we cut. Rejects are collected in buckets which are then dumped back into the vineyard (this has got to be the world’s classiest compost). When done, and back at the domaine, a forklift truck takes one of the big red bins off the tractor trailer, and hoists it up on a level with a sorting machine table.
Now this is fun stuff – the sorting table is a very Wile E Coyote and Bugs Bunny looking contraption – on feet which must be adjusted to ensure the whole thing is level (and they did this meticulously with a spirit level), are two shelves about three feet off the ground where we stand at a shallow bin-table which is at our stomach level as we stand on the shelves. The forklift holds the red bin up, aligned with the sorting table, and we open it carefully by first loosening the end panel, allowing just the juice to run down. It filters down through holes in the sorting table into pans below which catch juices and pips and things that filter down through the colander like sorting table. Later these pans, also glorified sieves, will be stirred up by hand to let all the juices flow through into another big bin below. When all is done, there is a tap which allows this juice to be drained off into buckets which will get dumped into the vats along with the de-stemmed grapes. Meanwhile, up on the sorting table, when the juice seems to have run off from the red bin, we remove the end panel altogether, and start pulling the grapes down into the pan, first with our hands, and then one person wields a rake to pull them down onto the table little by little.
Did I say this entire contraption is vibrating? So the grapes are shook down and we (who are being shook too) spread them out and look them over one more time, pulling out any leaves or debris and catching the odd bunch which is unripe or has a bit of pourriture, which Patrick trims out, or chucks the entire bunch, depending how bad it is. The shaking moves them all along to the far end, where the grapes get shook (am I being grammatical? I’m tired) down into a sort of cradle with a corkscrew revolving in it – this de-stems them, Stems gets dumped in one stream straight out the bottom, grapes make a right hand turn and start going up a conveyor belt into the vat designated for this vineyard or wine.
For every red bin full of grapes that went into the vat, Patrick poured out a measure of sulfur solution and poured it in the vat. At the end of it all, Anne dumped in dry ice (carbon dioxide).
Very few photos today, it is hard to take photos in the vineyard when your hands are grubby and sticky, also I’m a bit shy of photographing people who may not like it, so you probably won’t get much in that line at all. I took one rather bad one of the sorting table on the truck, and I asked someone to take photos for me of the sorting and de-stemming process back in the cave – this shows Patrick and your humble blogger, also the back of Eveline, another vendengeur who pitched in, but you can get the idea of the table and red bin and the grapes being raked down. The big blue boxes behind us are the vats where the grapes macerate, you can see the one behind Patrick marked HC – for the Haute Cotes grapes that will go into it eventually.