Following is the entry Tracey wrote in our “blog” from 2002, our first year making wine and lucky for us, in France training under Eric Texier. Blog is in quotes b/c blogging software did not exist way back then!…
“The commencement of our first harvest was on Saturday, the 14th of September in the year of 2002. My god this is hard work. We left Orange (in the Southern part of the Rhone Valley near Avignon) at 5am and begin clipping pristine bunches of Chardonnay grapes in the Mâcconnais by 8:30.
Eric usually begins harvest further South in Chateauneuf or one of the many Côte du Rhône villages but this year is completely unpredictable thanks to the monsoon so our first crush was his Macon Bussieres Vieilles Vignes.
On Saturday we harvested the “Village” parcel, on Sunday the “Varennes.” Unlike California, Eric does not employ migrant workers. The pickers for Saturday morning included Monsieur and Madame Donde (the vineyard owners and growers) two of their close friends from Paris, Gabriel and Jared and I. Jared, Gabriel and I were easily 25 years their junior and they kicked our ass (well not Gabriel, but definitely Jared and I)! Jared and I shared rows, which means we would cut the same vine, just from different sides (these were trellised). Everyone else took their own row and they still beat us to the top. However tradition and etiquette rules in the vineyard require that we only pick one direction, that all pickers finish before anyone walks back down to start the next row and that those finishing first help the laggards. So we really didn’t even complete our first row – the elders had to give us a hand!
And, the most important rule is that BEFORE we can walk down to start a new row we must first sample the previous years product. Monsieur Donde would not take no for an answer which was alright for me but Jared had indulged a little too much in our pre-harvest dinner the night before and wasn’t so keen on drinking wine at 9am after backbreaking work. But of course he managed to get a few gulps down. Donde’s wine is wonderful – we had sampled it once before. He makes a chardonnay that he leaves on the lees. (The lees are the dead yeast cells etc from the fermentation that most wine makers remove by racking in the first two or three months.) It is like a dry wine cooler.
After a 4-course lunch compliments of Madame Donde (in addition to cutting she managed to whip up a 4 course “dinner” for 7) the Texier clan joined us. This brought Eric, Laurence and their two boys Leo and Martin plus Martin’s friend Julien. So while we were resigned to be humiliated by the elders (who we rationalized had years of experienced) we were utterly ashamed to be beaten by the 8 year old…
Approximately 3 tons later we headed back to Chez Texier to press the Chardonnay in his gentle vertical basket press. Laurence had told us the first and last night of harvest were her favorite. She was correct about the first night. Not long after we arrived the visitors started gathering to watch the harvest commence. Wine was served. Children disrobed and STOMPED the grapes and we had yet another wonderful 4 course feast (this time compliments of Laurence). At about 11:30 Laurence looked at Jared and told us to go to bed. What a day.
But then Sunday came. We got up at 7:14 for a 7:15 departure to the vineyard. At about 9am my body was finally awake and decided it was not at all happy about being back in the vineyard, bending over the vines, cutting grapes. However, seeing the elders effortlessly moving along I took another motrin, a large glass at the end of the rows and somehow managed to survive it.
Monday we rose at 6:40 to head back to Orange where we would receive (no cutting thank god) the Cote Rotie. It was on the way down that I realized Eric makes about 25 wines that comprise somewhere around 60 parcels (vineyards) and that it is quite possible I will die from exhaustion before this over.”