The harvest, or ‘les vendanges’ as it is called here, started at Chateau Léoville Barton last Friday, just 2 days after my arrival here in Bordeaux. Admittedly I had no real idea of what to expect, but it’s safe to say that the experience has created not one but two new ‘curves’ in my life; one in my learning, and another in my back – I feel you Quasimodo, really I do.
The first morning held that first-day-at-school vibe, with the apprehension to match, only in this case the age range easily spanned over 40 years. And so, the world’s most eclectic bunch of stragglers went off to work; spindly teenagers, stern-looking French mothers, Moroccans (with whom I got on extremely well once we established that marriage wasn't an option, camels or no), boules-playing grandfathers, Martin the Chinaman and one baffled looking English girl. We were bussed off to the vines, handed a pair of sheers and a bucket, put in a numbered line and promptly told to ‘allez!’. So down I crouched (the grapes are at about knee height when standing) and to work I (cluelessly) went.
However, when placed in a long line with a task ahead of them, for some unknown reason human beings seem to think the entire process is a race. Those of you who know me also know my feelings towards speed, but for those of you who don’t it goes something like this: speed is both a little unnecessary and a lot exhausting – generally speaking it’s something I tend to avoid (unless when in a car; that’s a different story entirely). So on realizing that happily snipping a way in my own time was not an option I swiftly adapted (just because I don’t like speed doesn’t mean I can’t manage it on occasion), and Speed Pruning quickly (there I go again) became the name of the game.
Technique is key you see; find the stem and the rest is a piece of cake – or in the case a bottle of wine I suppose? Which sounds irritatingly simple having written it down, but in reality ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ hasn’t got anything on ‘finding a stem in a vine’. Truth.
It might not quite be a case of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ but it turns out that 'spasms, sweat and grape resin’ really isn't that far off. Harvesting is a mammoth task, and those that undertake it can only be described as ‘proper’ people; they couldn’t care less about ‘hints of wet stone’ or how ‘racy’ acidity levels are, they’re not wearing starchy suits or sporting overly gelled hair and they’re certainly not whipping out their thesaurus to try and find the 37th option for ‘fruity’. But good Lord, do they know their wine. They are also immensely 'fière' (proud), as they often tell me, to be part of a process that they know will produce an outstanding product.
The harvest has put into perspective the fact that, at its core, wine is a product of farming, science and an inordinate amount of hard working – backbreaking-ly hard work. So, the ‘pompous’ label that so many seem to have stuck on this industry is not only unfair, but also completely wrong: of the 100 or so people that are part of the process of making a bunch of grapes into a product that is sometimes worth thousands of pounds undoubtedly some of them will be morons. Really, that goes for life too though. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that characterizing an entire industry by the behaviour of a minority of its participants is equally as moronic as the aforementioned morons.
So the next time you open a bottle, before you chug it down like a fresher on a mission, maybe take a moment to consider what it actually is that you’re drinking. Smell it. Taste it. Enjoy it. Because the many, many people involved in that bottle’s journey have worked themselves into the ground to make your judgment a favourable one. I think the
least they deserve is you taking the time to form an opinion of the (fermented) fruits of their labour. So give it a whirl and channel a little Jancis Robinson, who knows what might happen?!
Until next time,