Back in the Côtes de Nuit…
The vines are all cut back to their gnarled stumps and the land, viewed from the top of the ridges, is a patchwork of various combinations of brown and green stripes, depending on whether a given area has been ploughed recently, whether there is grass or other verdure allowed to grow between the vines, or whether it is very stoney, in which case it is more beige, striped with the dark brown of the vines. Where the wires have been renewed over the winter one sees a silvery shimmering, like a mirage, when the sun glints on the shiny new wires. New posts glare a rather flaxen colour versus the weathered silver grey of the older posts. Many new vines have been planted, most with a pair of short posts either side to protect them from plough blades, some with some kind of plastic netting or tubing over them like a sleeve. I wonder if rabbits are a problem? I’ve not seen any so far.
Two immense cranes loom over Vosne Romanee – one at Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et fils, another in the middle of a square of buildings, on the east side of which there is a sign about construction at Domaine Eugenie, on the north side another sign about construction at Domaine Meo Camuzet – I’m not sure, but I think the crane is at the latter site – from the south you can see the framework of a pitched, hipped roof being put into place. The cranes are rather jarringly modern looming high over an ancient village where even newer buildings are very traditional and blend in.
Saturday morning early, as I walked north to Gevrey Chambertin, there was a horse tethered to its transport van, parked alongside Romanée Conti. Later in the day, when I was wandering again, I could see a man ploughing Les Reignots with the horse, which is a rusty cinnamony colour with tow-coloured mane and tail. Today, Sunday, he was again out, this time in La Romanée, which he seems to have ploughed entirely today, I could see him ploughing with the horse and an equally tow coloured labrador bounding alongside as they worked. He had two horses out today, near twins, one was again tethered to the van while the other was ploughing. Very peaceful and pastorale, the twittering birds, the view of the man ploughing by horse, and a few swallows swooping about in the early evening.
I can see many changes where old vineyards have been grubbed up and not yet planted, one swathe in St. Vivant, others in the Nuits St. Georges villages vineyards; also some new plantings. There is a strip in Eschezaux which last summer was carpeted in calendula – I picked some of the brilliant orange flowers to weave into my plait as I walked away the morning after the vendange ended – which now has been planted with baby vines – tiny stubs set neatly into long ditches, the posts and wires set up and ready for them as they grow. In other vineyards there are just odd vines replaced in amongst the older ones.
New growth has begun, you see clots of leaves forming and beginning to emerge along the spurs left when the vines were pruned last winter – they are covered in a sort of peach fuzz and look like nothing so much as the first growth of antlers.
As usual, when I arrived by train in Dijon on Friday, I took the bus to Gevrey Chambertin and then walked to Vosne Romanee. I was treated to my first proper orage – the notorious sudden storm of Burgundy. It began to rain gently somewhere around Mezis Chambertin, by the far end of Clos de Beze it was raining in earnest and the lightning began, and by the time I reached Morey St. Denis I was sodden and thoroughly impressed by the way the thunder rolls down the hills and across the valley and echoes in the combes. Mercifully I was under shelter in a little porch at the church at Morey St. Denis when the hail came pelting down, glinting rather prettily when the lightning caught and lit it up mid-air. After twenty minutes the ground at my feet was thoroughly strewn with what looked like white peppercorns. The storm finally abated to just a sprinkle of rain so I continued on my way; by the time I was leaving Chambolle Musigny the sun was emerging, and by Clos de Vougeot my skin was feeling lightly toasted. The day continued lovely and mild, and it really has been gloriously sunny and warm yesterday and today.
All of which I ponder as a potential omen…
After the vendange I again looked for a contract in the City, to no avail after the financial disasters of the late summer and autumn. When at last something was offered me around Christmas time, I felt absolutely physically ill at the prospect of returning to an office and the financial industry. I’m afraid I said “no” so fast and so adamantly that poor headhunter wondered what on earth he’d done to offend me when really he thought he’d found a rather brilliant opportunity. But I felt as sick as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. After Christmas I began looking at opportunities in the wine trade, and took my Advanced course at WSET, but none of the kinds of jobs on offer – retailing wine, sommelier positions, importers – were even remotely interesting. I finally admitted what I’d known since I woke up in England again on the 3rd of October last autumn – that the only thing I really want to do is return to Burgundy and work in the vineyards. A few weeks ago I screwed up my courage – and my french – and emailed Anne Gros to ask if by any chance she needed another worker for the summer through the harvest and she replied to say she could offer me work, but not lodging. I replied to say I would take the work and find lodgings, and come out to visit, to discuss details with her and look for a place to stay.
And here I am… and we will talk tomorrow morning. I keep thinking of something from Beryl Markham’s West With the Night, how her father sent her off to make her own way in the world with the advice to work and hope, but never hope more than you work.
Picking up where I left off last autumn – at the foot of Mezis Chambertin, looking up towards Clos des Ruchottes, Friday 17 April around 14:00 (if I were as meticulous as Constable, I would have noted the wind direction too… ). It was just beginning to sprinkle as I took this photo.