It’s wine harvest time north of the Equator, the time when thousands of people strain their backs, endure hot sun or cold rain, trudge in the mud, climb steep hills, and toil from sun up to sun down to make sure we get our wines for another year. And as we sip those wines, we praise the wine maker, the winery, or the weather and seldom think of the tremendous effort it took to get those grapes from vine to bottle.
I confess that I have never harvested a grape, but I have wandered through many vineyards during the harvest and watched the men and women cut the grape bunches, thrust them into the baskets, and see that they get carried to the trailers parked nearby. I have engaged them in conversation and been witness to many a basket discarding its contents into the fermentation vats.
I have learned that there’s more to a wine harvest than just “picking” the grapes. While it’s true that many vintners depend on students out for a little pay and a chance to be part of nature, more and more producers reply on trained and experienced workers. Many of them have a loyal work force that returns year after year.
In spite of increased mechanization and changing demographics, the end of the harvest still brings on a festive party at the end. And while I have been privileged to take part in some of these festivities, I still recognize that the revelers have accepted demanding work for relativity little return, except possibly the pride of knowing their efforts bring joy to a great many people.
Harvest crews vary from place to place. At an estate like Chateau Margaux, for example, prospective pickers are interviewed and meticulously trained and form teams that come year after year. At Schloss Vollrads, historically, the harvests have been done by Gypsies well-steeped in knowledge about the steep vineyards along the Rhine. Noble estates need assurance that harvesters know which rows to pick, which rows for which vats, to assure accuracy in bottling and labeling.
Much can and should be said about the men and women, old and young, accepting not much more than minimum wage and three really good meals a day during the season, who guarantee wine for our dinner table. Suffice it to say that as the harvest progresses this season, let us remember these brave, faithful, souls who help make our wines possible.
I shall observe International Grenache Day tomorrow with a delicious red wine from the village of Lirac and sip it nostalgically recalling one of my favorite regular car trips down the Autoroute de Soleil from Lyon to the highway’s bifurcation leading one way to Italy, the other to Spain. Turning west toward Spain, the highway crosses the Rhone River almost immediately and snakes up a sloping bank from the top of which you can see a lengthy farm building bearing on its roof the words “Tavel: le Premier Rose en France.” I have long considered those words an invitation to use the next sortie marked for Roquemaure.
Officially Roquemaure and Lirac are in the Rhone Valley but in a spot where Provence, the Rhone, and the Nimes designations all come together. On one thing, the regions agree: the scenery is South of France. Once off the Autoroute, I take the narrow winding road to Lirac and stop at Chateau de Segries, just past the farmhouse bearing the Tavel letters. There I take a seat in the charming tasting room of Henri de Lanzac and refresh myself with a glass of splendid rose.
When I first started making this car trip in the 1960s (before the Autoroute), we didn’t often see rose wines in Germany, where I was working, or in the States when I was home. Fortunately, that has all changed, and today we get Tavel and many different Provencal roses throughout the States. Fortunately, the wines of Monsieur Lanzac are among those available.
But tomorrow I am banking on the red wine from his vineyards near the River Gard for my observance. It is Grenache based, the percentage of Mourvedre or other cepages varyies from year-to-year. It is classed as a red Rhone wine and will do very nicely with a roast leg of lamb and a spread of soft cheeses. May your International Grenache Day be as pleasant and rewarding.
Oh to be in Napa these past few days. Just ended is the first-ever “summit” gathering of Michelin Guide inspectors with twenty winery directors, chef-owners, and sommeliers from New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area to — well eat and drink well. Of course the NVV (Napa Valley Vintners) and its guests have been focusing on professional development since last Sunday with a focus on the great wines produced in Napa.
Those of you who follow the prestigious annual Michelin Red Guides to Hotels and Restaurants know that they are the supreme infallible raters of fine dining based on quality cuisine, quality ingredients, quality preparations, and consistent quality from year-to-year. Their inspectors in each of the 27 nations in which a guide is published travel anonymously, pay their bills, and have shown unquestioned integrity since the tire company launched these special guides not quite a century ago — to encourage motorists to make more car trips and use more tires, of course. Even so, we have learned to accept that a star in New York means the same as a star in Paris or Berlin or Tokyo.
Their restaurant descriptions always address the presence of wine, emphasizing local wines where relevant, availability elsewhere. So it seems natural that these erudite gourmets, with deep European wine-country roots, should immerse themselves in the wine culture of one of America’s best known fine wine producing areas.
I have had occasion to know four Michelin inspectors, two of the International Directors, and two “roadies,” those who dine out 200 times a year and take copious notes while trying very hard not to gain excessive weight but at the same time accurately sample and evaluate the creativity of the kitchen work. They are diligent students, experienced chefs or researchers themselves, and very conscious of public attitude toward budget and cuisine.
I look forward to reports on the results of this Napa Valley work from earlier this week and sharing some of the most pertinent findings with you. By the way, the 2017 Red Guide for Germany, one of the first to be issued each year, will be released about the same time as our Presidential election, perhaps offsetting any election disappointment some of you are likely to feel.« NEWER POSTS | OLDER POSTS »