Our intern

This is our intern Alexis –  his mom and Manon, his sister.  They are our neighbors – proof you don’t have to go far to find really great help.  His first three week training period finishes next week and I wish it lasted longer.

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kneeling so the little guys can get their grapes in the carrier at Jeanot’s harvest

And don’t think the vineyard hunting stories only come from the older crowd.  I’m hopeful there will be perdrix arriving on my doorstep this winter – he keeps talking to me about them.  The next step will be figuring out how to fix ’em!

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And today he harvested with KNIFE – a curved harvesting knife – but still! What am I going to do with him?

The expert

The expert in question is Jeanot Gautié, our neighbor.  He has probably harvested grapes every year since he started walking.  And that’s a lot of years.

That said, pretty much all of those pictured above – and below – could easily be considered experts as well.   They show up in the vineyards early in the morning telling jokes in Occitan and hunting stories in French. They complain a little about their aching backs and how they’re not getting any younger and before you know it – and seemingly effortlessly – there’s not a grape left in the vineyard.

 

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Jeanot’s volunteer harvesting team is always big because he’s a charming guy and the breakfast is good.  This year the team was even bigger because Jeanot couldn’t be there – he was hospitalized right before his harvest.   Missing the harvest for Jeanot is unheard of – he got all of the equipment ready anyway early in the morning before his wife drove him in.  It’s probably the only harvest he’s missed in 70 years.

Around here when someone is unwell and has a vineyard to harvest or to prune people come out of the woodwork.  I’ve heard stories of volunteer teams pruning several acres in a day when someone was in need.

 

The whole team – spanning at least 4 generations. 24 cutters and 6 carriers – the vineyard didn’t stand a chance. We were finished at 11am… with a long breakfast break.  It usually takes all day.

Those are some fine lookin’ rubber boots and our youngest cutter with the scariest clippers. His fingers, strangely, survived.

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Shameless product placement.  They do look pleased, though,  and that glass is almost empty.

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The man behind the scenes.

Jeanot asked Didier to look after his harvest for him and it was, of course, a great success.

Press walk

There are ten independent winemakers in Douzens (population 750).  This, strangely, isn’t the source of discontent, Shakespearean rifts or drunken knife fights – we all get along pretty well and some of us are even close friends. We sometimes share equipment – which is logical because we all need pretty much the same stuff.  Living in a teeny village we are also so close together that sometimes you can see our friend Jean-Pierre’s fork lift driving down the main street toward our winery – we need it about 2 days a year – or Michel loading or unloading the destemmer or the labeling machine that we bought in common.

Jean Pierre has a vineyard that dwarfs ours, being over 20 times its size, so we often borrow equipment from him.  This time we were able to reciprocate ; he needed our “little” barrel press for a special cuvée that was too small to go into his giant press. After a quick discussion, Didier and Fernando decided that the easiest way to transport the press was on foot. I photographed the “press walk” down the main drag of Douzens and made an (admittedly lame) stop motion movie.   It only took me most of yesterday and the day before to get the movie to work – a real improvement over my first one.

I love the last frame with the gigantic vats in the background. I think our whole harvest would fit in one of Jean-Pierre’s vats !

Harvesting at Marie’s

The grapes are ripe! The harvest has begun.

The first of many collective harvests was this weekend with our friends Marie and Laurent who have a little plot of Muscat that they use to make a vat of zero intervention – natural wine.

That’s Mary with the red fingers.  She LOVES harvesting and making wine.  She and Laurent (below) only moonlight as winemakers.  In real life they are both musicians – they started up one of those wild costumed marching bands – you know, one of those…that you can check out here. (hit the link above the picture). Marie plays the tuba – I know – just when I thought she couldn’t get cooler she went and played the tuba. They live off making music and make wine for fun.  I love France!

 

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They both sing in Occitan – the language that is traditionally spoken here – and I though French was hard.  Here’s Mary’s group (here’s another one, I couldn’t choose)… and here’s Laurent’s.  In our house we listen to a lot of “lala”. That’s what Nina (holding on to a bucket of grapes above) calls music.  Laurent’s last CD is her favorite. I don’t speak occitan and I have it memorized.

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So we harvested a little vineyard, then all thirty or so of us ate… the harvesting took 2 hours and the eating – twice as long.  And then, of course, there was music and dancing.  Oom pa pa! Oom pa pa!

Blending day

the measuring vat – seen here VERY full – the winemaker loves risk / fears nothing

Today was blending day!  Today the small vats, neatly marked with the name of individual plots and varieties were emptied and pumped through the measuring vat – and then were blended to create one of the wines you know and love.  In this case, Oiseau 2011.

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The measuring vats with the big storage vats in the background

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These are the Oiseau 2011 vats – the big ones you can just see in the background of the second photo. The wine has been blended and the vats are full. It smelled GOOD in the winery today!!

 

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A little close up of vat number 11 mmmmm.  I can’t wait.

Cirl Bunting

Introducing the cheese man – Matthieu – pictured above.  I’m sure he has just said something clever — he has an “I’ve said something clever” look his face.  He sells his divine  goat cheese at the Montlaur market – his stand is next to mine.

Matthieu wasn’t always a goat herder. In a previous life he was an ornithologist.  That means TAKE CARE mentioning birds in his presence – you’ll get details you never imagined people could want to know.

All that to say that the bird’s eggs sighted in the syrah have been identified and photographed, even.  Drum roll…the little brown bird living in the vineyard is a Cirl Bunting.  Here it is. Picture by Matthieu the bird man – now cheese man (but still really the bird man at heart).

Our wine has a bird on it so when the bird story came up – I couldn’t help myself.

 

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The Belgian plumber

Antoine and Béa (our Belgian friends) with the daring couple in Toulouse

At the beginning of the summer I delivered some wine to La Marée Gourmande, a little restaurant in Toulouse.  It was mostly an excuse to go shopping and out to lunch with my girlfriends.

When the little restaurant ordered two cases of wine we were faced with the same delivery problem we had had before (Toulouse is an hour and a half drive from here).

This time a different solution fell into our laps in the form of a Belgian couple who showed up at the winery.  They were REALLY fun and when we discovered they were going to the Toulouse train station – not far from La Marée Gourmande – we asked them to deliver the two cases.  We had known them about hour when they left with the two cases of rosé in their trunk and the promise that they would take a photo when they delivered the wine.

 

IMG_3609Not only did they deliver the wine and take a picture, but Antoine came back to the winery a few days later to help us bottle our late harvest sweet wine.  You might recognize him in the group photo from the Lunch with the Arty crowd (it should have read the arty crowd + hilarious Belgian plumber).   He left his card.  If anyone in the greater Brussels area needs a plumber, don’t hesitate.

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That’s organic !

All obvious bird references aside…

I have come across many a natural marvel in the vineyard – while doing some repetitve task or another – but this is the first time I have scared a mother bird off her eggs as I went by (she flew back after I was gone,  I’m not a monster).

This was in a little Syrah, “La Bade” where I was working with Didier and our 15-year-old nephew, who, seeing me doing an elated bird’s-eggs-dance-of-joy calmly said, “Do you want my iphone to take a picture?”

I love Jeoffrey for being an unimpressed teenager and for thinking of lending me his smartphone.  I have no cell phone.  I have a landline – cordless – but still plugged into the wall, because deep down I subscibe to a movement of my Uncle Richard’s invention called “early man”.

Didier has the “farmer’s phone” – all of our friends who work in agriculture have one.  – It’s uncomplicated, indestructable – and it’s red -fancy farmers! What it really has going for it is that it’s waterproof so you can drop it in a wine vat, fish it out, dry it off and make a call to tell people about it.

That said, the bird’s nest picture – with it’s millions of pixels – is being published today thanks to a really cool teenager who had the LATEST technology in his pocket.  (Okay he took a month and a half to send me the picture – but we’re not counting.)   I’ll come around to technology… but for now – EARLY MAN!

Lunch with the arty crowd

I love to cook.  I had a friend come by the other day when I was doing something other than cooking in the morning- lunch is the big meal in France- and she was shocked. So I when a musician friend  asked me to cook for an artist’s residency – just at lunch – at my house – for 10 days – I said yes really really fast.

To start off with the artists were friends I wanted to see anyway and then they were going to pay me to cook.  (I’m cooking anyway!)

It was actually a little bit of a challenge.  There was dancing involved in their residency so I needed them to feel like they had eaten well but not like a nap would be a necessity.  It’s really a fine line.

I made lots of salads. I bought lots of great produce from friends who make and grow all kinds of delicious things – I read lots of cookbooks – and it was REALLY fun.  The hard part was being on time.  Then again for people who know me that comes as no surprise.

They started off drinking water but that got looser as time went on (as you can see in the photo of the last day, above).

After all of these lunches came show time. The Colline de l’hirondelle hosted the drinks that followed the presentation of their work in progress ( courageous -poetic – I can’t wait to see the end result) and then there was wine!

 

And then we had a party at our house.  To celebrate.

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VENTEALAPROPRIETE.COM

Check it OUT!

And I thought that getting barcodes was full on.  Now, for the next 5 days you can receive a case of Oiseau 2009 anywhere in France just by clicking “je commande”on www.ventealapropriete.com.

What is great about this contact is that it all started in a hot tub.

It’s not what you think.

I have a fantastic friend who sells lots of wine for a living.  She and I – with a small group of girlfriends – had left the men and all of our many children at home and had gone to lunch and a spa.  I know – it was SO great!

Since my friend is so knowledgeable about the wine trade, as we were lounging in the bubbles, I asked her some questions.

In passing she said  – “You really should contact Vente à la Proprieté – if only because the guy I’m in contact with is SO charming.”

I like charming – so Monday I called him and he WAS charming. He had a very fancy aristocratic name and was very fun to talk to – which, sadly isn’t always the case in the wine trade.

It turns out that Mr fancy name is associated with a very reputable somelier who liked our wine (of course he liked our wine – what’s not to like ?! ) and now for 5 days only our little Oiseau is for sale on the national market.

The moral of the story is: it’s all about the hot tub.

The Bottling Man

The red car that lives in front of the winery

We were visited by the bottling man.

It wasn’t a surprise; it had been planned for awhile.  We bottle on days when the lunar calendar says that the aromas of the wine will be at their most expressive.  Woo woo certainly, but who knows, it can’t hurt.

The bottling man’s arrival is always a big moment.  We have to make sure that we have eveything ready so all is aflutter the day or so before he comes.  He leaves Bordeaux at 3 in the morning to be at our winery at 7am so we’re jerks if we’re not ready.

Back in the day we used a small 4 bottle machine that was  entirely gravity operated.  It took FOREVER.  Now that we have  little bit of wine to bottle, say 8,000 bottles (that’s what we did this time) the bottling man is considerably faster.   Faster  by say 6 times.

We like the bottling man.

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That’s me working hard – it didn’t last.

_MG_8719Picnic at the winery

The first time the bottling man came he literally threw the bottles into the storage boxes.  Maybe “throw” is a little exagerated but he was NOT gentle.  I learned that wine bottles are actually very strong.   He would put 6 bottles in a storage box at a time.   At lunch he talked about the places he had bottled.  The man had bottled Super Tuscans – and Bordeaux Grand Crus Classés.   It suddenly occurred to me that the bottle thrower was bottling some of the most expensive wines on the market.

I asked him, “Do you throw the Super Tuscans too?” and he said “a bottle’s a bottle, I treat them all the  same.”

We like the bottling man.

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Mystery! What is that bottle? It looks like something new…
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The mystery bottle from below. More on that when it has a label.

This time Lydia was there to document the experience so the photos are better than usual.  Thanks, Lyd.

La Joupatière

This is La Joupatière.  It’s a really really old acre of vineyard that we saved from being pulled up, and yes that’s me, trying to be as tall as that vine. It’s really tall.

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Proof – we are both pretty much average height

Didier and I have wanted to have someone come and identify all of the grape varieties in la Joupatière for a while. Yesterday, it turns out, was the day.

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We had a meeting with the Ampelograph – I know, new word for me too – with the grape variety man, yesterday.  He looked like a cross between José Bové and Indiana Jones, gray mustache, leather hat and all.

Our meeting was scheduled at the vineyard at 2:30pm. It was over 100°F yesterday at 2:30. In a vineyard. With no shade. And no wind. I’ve never been to Egypt – but I think I can almost take the Indianna Jones reference one step further.  Thankfully there were no snakes.

The Ampelograph was a  really cool guy, who used lots of specific grape terms.  When he was unsure, which was almost never, he marked “Inconnu” (unknown) on the lablel.

 

As it stands – the official variety count in La Jouparière is 13:

(I’ve photographed some of the weirder ones).

 

Grenache Noir
Carignan (several types / plusieurs sortes)
Morrastel Boucher
Chasselas
Mourvèdre
Terret Noir
Terret Gris

Terret Blanc

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Olivette Blanche

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Grand Noir de la Calmette

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Unknown 1 / Inconnu 1

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Unknown 2 / Inconnu 2

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Canopy management

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Before

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After

Field trip!  Vineyard post.  There are some very exciting moments in vineyard life.  I’m not sure that this would qualify as one of them.  I have been doing what I am going to call “canopy management” for lack of a better term.  It’s taming wild vines – making order of chaos.

(photo 1) – The vine – this is a syrah – is on its trellis but it is doing pretty much what it wants – shoots everywhere .. it’s a mess.  Syran is known for needing help holding up its canes, hence the trellis, but it needs me too.  I come along and pull the shoots back in the retaining wires and hop! (as they say here) it becomes photo 2.

(photo 2) – This tidy little vine has had all of its long shoots put neatly back inside the trellis wires.   It also means that in a few weeks if I left this poor syrah looking like photo 1 the tractor would break those shoots off driving down the row.   In photo 2 we keep all the leaves to ripen the grapes with no tractor breakage.

Such a deal, I know.  When I was doing it it made me think of trying to get Lili’s hair into a pony tail (Lili age 5).  In the vineyard the shoots sometimes break, which is not fun, but at least the vine never gets mad and says, “Mom, you’re hurting me!”

Here’s another one:

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Before

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After

Chaos! it has tied a knot in itself – it needs me!

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Just reaching out for another shoot… until I come along.

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House beautiful

When I read design magazines – which is rarely – I have noticed that, at least in France, they place their “design” objects in houses that have vaulted ceilings, beautiful beams or hundred year old walls.   The object in that setting all of a sudden looks SO COOL.

IMG_3299The thing is when you ask yourself,  “What would that look like in MY house?” Your answer is often, “not as cool.”  My ceilings are rarely vaulted… I have left behind my beams and hundred year old walls for an ordinary little house with a garden.

So here’s my story:

the beautiful old house… I was there last weekend and  everything I set down suddenly looked SO COOL.

I went to visit a wonderful artist friend of mine in her jewel of a house in a teeny village in the mountains.  I set my offering -we were having lunch together- on her mother’s counter and it suddenly looked like House Beautiful.  I thought … (lightbulb moment) this is how advertising works.

Suddenly my bottle looked really cool. So here it is.  Ventilo in a beautiful kitchen.  And then I couldn’t help adding my eye candy photos of her house.

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My sink at home looks like that.. and there are the beams…
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Nina found a box of marbles under the windowsill
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there’s a swing in the living room – and the orange chairs…
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Bracelets – I’m sure they’re hand dyed and felted – on the chandelier
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Felted rocks – very heavy and fuzzy – so strange to hold
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felted knots

Rugby

Rugby is the national sport of Douzens (my village of 750) and Saturday night there was a final.  Toulon played Toulouse.  We were for Toulon.  Didier had briefed us at lunch so we knew who to root for.

This group of young rugby players were for Toulouse – as can be seen in their obvious joy – Toulouse won.  There’s kissing and everything.  I love France.

 

One thing that I thought was funny was the beer drinking.  I attended this function with Didier, Adrian and Jean-Pierre, all wine makers.  We were accompanied by a couple of doctors, the mayor of the village, and an oenologist.  All drinking beer.  Rugby games and beer.  When the game was over we did have some wine because it is our job.

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But there are still lots of dubious cups with foamy lines in them. I have nothing against beer but in a village that makes wine…

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And last but not least Nina, who had no idea who we were rooting for but she dug the flag !

Labeling

Last week Didier, my father-in-law André and I spent the day putting labels on bottles and bottles in boxes.  I made a super interesting photo movie of it – mostly to see if I could. Now that I know how, I have to find some more worthy subject matter.  It does give an idea- if sped up – of what we were doing.  We went through this process – filling a pallet with boxes – 4 times.  Each time it took a lot longer than 3 seconds.