Monday, May 09, 2011

Teatime's Over, Back On Yer Heads

the long rows
My 10 day working break was over Thursday night. I was totally unplugged, so to speak. From the evening of the 25th of April until the evening of the 5th of May, the only news I got was from my French co workers who gave me bits of info, like, "The Americans killed Ben Laden" or tidbits about the tornadoes in the south of the USA and the bombing in Marrekech. I tried to listen to BBC4 on my radio, but I always fell asleep before or even during a news cast at night and woud wake up at 4 am with the radio crackling away.
Vieux Chevrol
So, I spent 10 days in another century, in an alternate world getting up at 7 am and at work at 8 am. I was at my home away from home, The Chateau Vieux Chevrol in Neac, located in the Lalande de Pomerol  area. A wine making chateau of the Bordeaux Region is a working, self contained operation. Some of the chateaux are of course huge showy grand estates, but most are a collection of working buildings and with a grand house or two. Vieux Chevrol consists of 3 big houses of various ages and a new grander one under construction with a battery of buildings with the caves where the wine is made and aged in oak barrels.  The Chateau produces one variety of wine, an oaky deep red Lalande Pomerol made in the traditional fashion. The owner of the Chateau, Jean-Pierre Champseix tries to use traditional techniques and relies on his personal experience and observation.  The results at Vieux Chevrol is a consistently excellent flavorful dry red, at first the flavor has the tang of the tannin of the oak barrels it is aged in before it is bottled and reaches it full maturity in about 6 years. A very complex wine with the hints of raspberry which varies from year to yo year.  Except for a break of one year, I have been working with them since 2002. 
at work
The operations we perform in the spring are called L'ebourgeonage and l'epamprage. A group of 6 people remove the excess buds (ebourgeonage) and growth from the base and wood (epamprage) from the grape vines with a medieval looking hand tool called l'epamprette. There are approximately 20 hectares of plants, so we were completing about 2 hectares a day. A well trimmed plant usually has about 7 new buds for the season and 2 others which are left for the next season. The operation which seems insane at first, usually takes about 20 seconds a plant once you enter into the "grape zen" zone. I have found that the best thing is to not think about what you are doing, it becomes automatic. Time passes relatively quickly and this year there was a very nice group, an English couple, a Moroccan woman, an older Frenchman and his niece and me the American. For me it is an opportunity to speak in French all the time and try to tell jokes and make small talk. The older man, Robert and his niece, Celine are extremely gourmand and about 3:30 each day, the conversation would turn to food. I am dying to make an omelet with salsify buttons finished with a little balsamic vinegar. 
Though the work is hard, potentially boring and physically demanding, the Champseix family treat us very well. I get a nice room, and very good meals and of course, the opportunity to taste wines and learn about varieties and technique. We take outings in the region occasionally. This time we visited the Tower of the Renaissance Philosopher,  Michel de Montaigne, near Castillon.
Later this summer, I will work for another 10 days when it tis time to perform the Vendenge Vert, which is the removal of the excess immature grapes and leaves to promote the quality and health of the grapes which will be harvested. That will be basically the same small group. Then in the late summer / early fall, it is time for the Vendenge, the harvest. That is usually a full two weeks and takes about 20 to 30 people to cut, carry and sort the grapes. Hopefully I will try to capture the spirit on film. For now, though, teatime is over, back on your heads!


mud_rake said...

Welcome back [whether or not you find it better or worse].

Your statement, So, I spent 10 days in another century, in an alternate world getting up at 7 am and at work at 8 am. I was at my home away from home gave me pause to think that this is exactly the condition of migrant workers toiling in the fields in Texas, Arizona and Florida.

I heard some right-wing pundit saying that 'they' are taking away jobs that Americans could do. The reality is, Hell No! But then, in their World of Delusion all is right.

microdot said...

Jobs Americans could do or would do?...and the could is a big if as well. The ability to be at the location at the crucial time. Agriculture does not stick to a schedule.
You hear the same thing in Europe, but even the Sarkozy anti immigrant government can't get French citizens to do this kind of work.
I am lucky because I love to do it, I can travel and am fairly flexible, the money is not an issue and the people I work for value my work, they know that I have become a skilled worker who has the experience only gained from time.
We work well together as a team because of the bond formed over the years.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

Welcome back.

Where can I get a bottle? Case?

microdot said...

There is probably an importer for the UK. They have an American agent in Toms River and I see Vieux Chevrol for sale occasionally by some of the dealers in NYC.
Right now, I can probably get cases of 2007 for a reasonable price, the shipping might be a little problem, but hey aren't we all in the E.U. kinda?

I got a magnum of 2007 for my birthday. It should be optimal in 2013.