This is what I learned from harvest 2019:
Don’t judge a man by what he’s got tattooed on his face (in this case, A.C.A.B)
Supermarket salad crates also work for harvesting grapes and are cheaper than caisse
I don’t want a pneumatic press
You don’t make wine alone.
I learned technical things too, as well as stuff you can’t be taught but learn from making mistakes. But if I had to get something tattooed on my face, it would be number four from the list above.
FYI the metric is tonnes and the forklift that broke my ankle weighs three
Before one goes under ink, one ought be sure of the integrity of the message. Wine after all is name driven, its stars a constellation of individuals, families and domaines. Even when we know there is a background chorus—the wife, apprentice, ouvrier; the annual visit at harvest from a friend—and even after accounting for the qualities absorbed from the land, we speak of it as a mouthpiece for its maker. A liquid stage set for a one-man band. Wine is a brand. Think of a bottle and tell me what you see. The product of one person or of many hands?
Last year taught me it takes a village to make a wine (when you don’t have anything yourself), but I’d forgotten. My notes for this harvest show I was more concerned with how many tanks fit a truck and how many KG fit a HL than by how many extra mouths I’d need to feed in thanks for their help.
But then, the revelation: pride comes before a fall. Know the expression ‘crashing down like a tonne of bricks’? Well that’s how it hit me. And FYI the metric is tonnes and the forklift that broke my ankle weighs three.
No one makes wine alone but I now needed everyone for everything to make mine. From picking grapes to shovelling marc, from filling tanks to loading the press. All the cleaning, de-stemming, stomping. Waiting for every last drip of lees while transferring. The barrel rolling and filling. Then ten minutes later (after discovering it leaking) emptying. Now I’m home I get updates to my checking-in-texts. My ‘Can you’-s are answered ‘Oui, chef!.’ My debt is incalculable. All I did the six weeks I was in a cast was press.
The place where all this happened was unique enough before my project and I got stranded. A cave-dwelling collective where equal stock is given to the cheapest of beers as old-vintage natural wines. Where you never know what there will be to eat: hand-dived scallops, a tractor-load of turnips or plain rice. I might be proud I slept two months in a cave with four people and no walls, waking to the sound of swallows swooping overhead to dress into damp clothes, but for the others, it’s a permanent address.
There’s a one cave for cooking and another for the winemaking, plus a collective computer mostly used for YouTube (punk) and checking anarchist news sites. This is a place where personal space and flushing toilets don’t exist, and where the most minor decisions require lengthy meetings. Where people bake bread in trucks, drink Chenin like they’re breathing from the bottle and butcher their own pigs (that’s A.C.A.B again). It’s where I first learned to prune, though the more life-and-death lesson was how to build a proper fire. It was that or freeze.
But more unique than all that is the glue that binds this community together. A commune not only shares resources, sleeping partners and work; but also risk. When I needed help, everyone rolled up their sleeves, no questions asked. In France, the health insurance I still don’t have is called ‘mutuelle’. The door swings both ways. If the accident had happened somewhere more normal I would have been considered too much trouble and sent away.
If anyone who’s ever made anything stands on the shoulders of giants then this vintage I had a piggyback ride. They say many hands make light work. But work makes you thirsty. I hope we made enough wine.