Day 4 Tues 30 Sep

Losing track of time, except when I log on.  The trick I think is if you are going to bend over, you just go straight to total jacknife – anything between 0 and 180 degrees is a mistake.  Anne assured me after the third day you were ok.  I didn’t want to tell her it was day four and I wasn’t yet.  She also said after the first week it’s easy to go for a month.  She must really need help in the Minervois after this.

The thing is, with every vine you have to weigh several factors and make a snap decision between bending over or kneeling down:  are there enough bunches to make it worth creaking up and down from your knees?  Are the bunches all or mostly low enough that full  jacknife is the better option?  If they are mostly a bit higher up you are better off on your knees (see comment above about degrees of bend).   And the other consideration is when was the last time the pannier came round?  If he JUST took a refill you are safe going down on your knees, but inevitably I misjudge and just as I have lumbered down the cry goes out, and I have to bounce (hah!) up again to hand over my bucket for dumping into the pannier.

Other than that, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable day.  No, really.  It’s been overcast most of the day and a bit cold except late morning.  We finished the Chambolle Musigny – which is just west of La Combe d’Orveau, which is a parcel of premier cru just west of Les Petits Musigny.  If you look on the Burgundian website maps, you can see the coombe extends a little further in an unmarked bit of AOC Communale – that’s Anne’s parcel of Chambolle Musigny.  We finished it before lunch, and after lunch went over to her Haute Cotes du Nuits, which is not on any of the maps on the Burgundian website.  I think, if I’m figuring this right, if you look at the map of Vosne Romanée at the top, there is a road that cuts west through Aux Brulees, which takes you – I am not kidding here – over the hill and through the woods, and on the other side is a high plain for the haute cotes, near a village called Concoeur.    We got about 2/3 done today, will return tomorrow to finish up, then harvest her white which is grown up there too, and I think there is another day’s work after that.

One of Anne’s employees very often looks after me and helps me – well, all of them do – but this one also is mischievous and as much as he helps, he also likes to wind me up.  The last straw was today, when I was crawling from one allee to the next by bending down (ugh!) and whilst passing between the rows of wires that hold the vines, I caught my bun (that’s buN – my hair) on the upper wire.  This man kindly untangled me from the wire, but also teasingly called me grandmere.  Argh.  I turned to another woman who is french but speaks english well, and asked her to tell him that I am going to study my french so hard that NEXT year I will be able to get even with him!

And yes, despite my whimpering there is no question in my mind I will come back next year.  Despite the racking pain and bruises and the rest I really am thoroughly enjoying this.  The vineyards and grapes themselves are enchantingly beautiful, and the people – even my tormentor, in fact especially him – have been incredibly kind, helpful and cheerful.  It really is a tremendous experience, I wouldn’t miss for the world.

Postscript

I don’t know if I mentioned, but I have never actually tasted any of Anne’s wines.  The wine merchants I frequent don’t distribute for her, and I have had no luck tracking down her wines in England – all sold out.  Well, tonight after dinner that was rectified.

The routine here is such that, as I am staying here at the domaine, Madame Gros (Anne’s mother) kindly includes me in her family dinner at 8:00.  Anne and the others who are getting the grapes sorted and underway generally finish up about 8:30 or 9:00 and often come in for a bite before going to their respective homes, and Patrick is staying at the domaine for the week as well.  This evening, as it happened, Madame Gros and I were alone at dinner, and then Patrick joined us about 9:00 or so, and we kept him company and chatted while he ate.  Bless him, he brought in a bottle of the Haute Côtes du Nuits 2006 – it was unlabelled and only partially filled, so perhaps he just drew it out of a cask?  Not sure.

I suppose my first and foremost tasting note is, this wine more than justifies the pain in my back, the bruises on my knees, the two cuts on my left hand and anything else I may have whinged about – I can’t remember it all myself, now.

The nose has that lovely smokey scent which I have caught occasionally whilst harvesting in several vineyards, though oddly not the Haute Cotes du Nuits today – though it was a coldish day and overcast so not ideal conditions to bring up scents.  The wine has good acidity – your mouth waters some time after you’ve drunk, always a good sign I think – and the tannins are to my liking – I do like vivid tannins – they are absolutely there, a sort of gilded cage for holding together all the lovely fruit sensations – red and black cassis, blackberry, as well as the taste equivalent of that smokey scent, and a bit of clove … bliss.

I’m ready to go back and finish that vineyard tomorrow.

I also learned that Patrick, when he’s not helping Anne with the vendange, works in a laboratory, doing blood work.  If I understood him correctly, I think he said if it’s red, he works with it.  He has been with Anne for 17 years, I think.  (My uncertainty has to do with my dodgy french comprehension).

I should also take this opportunity to mention the rest of Anne’s hard core year round team:  Elodie is her assistant who does a bit of everything in the vineyards, the cave and the office; she was the one who gave me the guided tour in July and bless her spoke un peu lentement so I could follow it all.  Arnaud has been chief shepherd out in the vineyards, assigning us to our rows, telling us where to go next when we finish one line, also keeps all the picking equipment in good order – the buckets and panniers get thoroughly hosed down at lunch time as well as the end of the day.  Pascale seems to be mostly in charge of the heavy machinery – drives the tractors, takes the lead on setting up the sorting table and the forklift and the bins for sorting.  Although they all have these other responsibilities for things sort of ancillary to the actual picking, all of them, and Anne too, did time with the secateurs.  No ceremony or hierarchy here, just a huge will to pitch in and get it done – and done right.

The Haute Côtes de Nuits rouge vineyard: