Wednesday, November 02, 2005

les vignes

During my first week here, I went grape-picking. The girl that took me is Pascal Houville's girlfriend, and also the daughter of winemaker/mayor of Chateau-Chalon, an unspeakably beautiful village.

Bernard Houville is the head of the English department; his family has taken care of me in a big way (more on them later). I was at dinner at their house, with their two (twin) sons, when Helene came over to join us. She was stooped over from spending the day picking grapes and jokingly invited me to come along the next day. Of course, I accepted, which prompted everyone at the table to say repeatedly, "Kelly, are you quite sure?"
To which I said, "Oh, yes! Rah-ther!"

It was fun, (despite the unwashed hair and unflattering borrowed clothes) but, as you might imagine, hard work.
I, being the delicate flower that I am, was a very slow grape picker.

Even this old lady in the red, probably 65 years old, had me pinned in a headlock within the first five minutes of meeting her.

At least I could provide entertainment to the other folks, in the form of a New Person to be stared at OR being asked to say things in French. On the upside, I got to pick grapes IN FRANCE and they gave us wine at lunch!
Chateau-Chalon is both the town and the appellation of the wine. However, the appellation must be earned every year -- that is, the grapes must be of a very high quality in order to be called Chateau-Chalon wine. They produce mainly Cotes du Jura, some Vin Jaune, Macvin, and Vin de Paille. I'll have to explain these in detail later when I am more familiar with the wines. As you may imagine, they take their local wines very seriously.

The other people who picked grapes are locals who do it every year. This winemaker is rather small, with only a few regular employees. The pickers work for about two weeks, earning only $65 a day. Truly, they do it just because they love it. It was a huge mix of people, from students to retirees, but they all enjoyed themselves immensely, chatting and singing throughout the day. It's a perfect example of the French love of their tradition and regional identity.

Here's Helene, picking grapes on my side of the vine. That justly earned a quick but firm knick on the knuckles. You have to let them know you mean business.

Afterwards, Helene took me through the family's caveau, and I got to taste all of the wines. Even though I was itching for the cash, I decided to invest and opted to be paid in bottles. Luckily, Cotes du Jura is best when aged, so I plan on telling this story again 10 years down the road when I crack one of those bottles open.

I am so lucky to be here.


At 12:05 AM, Blogger Sanjay said...

oh my. i am so jealous. hopefully i'll get to be around to try that wine in 10 years ;)


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