I was tempted to entitle this post “will work for wine,” because it’s possibly more accurate than the publication title. In theory, it makes me sound (slightly) less of a lush. But I suspect that it’s rather marginal. No worries, as the truth is that I am happy to work for the experience. Pay, be it food or wine, is a bonus.
A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of very early starts in order to help Nick and Helen of Chateau de Claribès with the relevage. Regular readers of the blog may recall that last autumn I joined a bunch of volunteers and tried my hand at picking grapes for the first time; and that in the spring I turned my hands to the bottling process. June saw the need to do some tidying in the vines, a process known as ‘relevage.’
The long canicule that was a feature of June this year meant that getting an early start was vital. With 2 dogs to walk and other basic domestic tasks to accomplish before heading out to Claribès required a 5am alarm. I needed to leave home by 6 in order to be on the parade ground for 6:30am as instructed. It’s a lovely drive from Les Terraces to Claribès, and the sun rose in the sky behind me as I wove my way westwards out of Sainte-Foy through lanes winding through field after field of vines. It’s a beautiful way to start the day.
Nick, Magnus and I walked up the hill to the top of a section of vines. I was equipped with a pouch and shown where to fill it with photo-degradable clips. Nick explained that the purpose of the exercise was mainly to lift excess vine growth from the bunches of grapes that are beginning to swell in order that they may ripen. Some of this is merely good housekeeping – keeping things tidy – while other elements are setting things ready for a trimming of the vines so that the plants’ energies are focused on feeding the grapes, and not unproductive growth, and making it easier to pick the grapes come the vendage.
Nick started down the first row of vines, yanking at the wires, freeing them from the tenacious grasp of tendrils for Magnus and me (I’ve seen them called ‘caprices des vignes’, which I love). I know that he was doing more than that, but I really don’t know what he was up to, save tying in the tendrils of the vines that stand at the ends of each run. Magnus and I worked together with a row of vines between us. We lifted the wires to their new level and clipped them in place, securing the straggling branches, and twisting the leggy growth over the topmost strand of wire, ready for Nick to trim them with his “hedgecutting” tractor later. Strands were pushed roughly into place, and unwanted shoots ripped from the heads of the vines. I was surprised by how rough we were with the plants. Yank, pull, twist, rip. Move a meter along and start again.
The relevage isn’t hard work, nor is it intellectually challenging. I suppose that it does require stamina: we worked non-stop for 6 hours each day under blazing skies, and you can’t do that without a certain degree of fitness (and lots of water). However, there is a pleasing rhythm to the work and the satisfaction of seeing the rows transformed slowly from shaggy lines to slightly tidier places.
It was interesting spending hours at a time with someone almost 2 generations younger than me, and gently learning about life from his perspective. Transplanted from the UK to SW France at a tender age and being completely bilingual, I was curious to know what Magnus thought of Brexit, the Royal Family, and whether he regarded himself as British or French to name but a few of the topics upon which we touched as we worked.
It also made me think about how badly young people such as he and his siblings have been served by the UK Government with their failure to honour successive manifesto undertakings to stop the disenfranchisement of its citizens and permit those who have been out of the country for more than 15 years to vote. I care about the fact that I can’t vote on issues that have a direct impact on my life, such as Brexit, deeply. But I chose my life as an expat. And I can (sort of) accept swallowing the bitter pill of no vote. However, I find that the position of young adults who can’t vote as a result of parental choices unacceptable. One might argue that those who have attained the age of majority might (or ought to) seek new nationality, particularly if they intend to remain in the county to which their parents moved them. But why should they?
This wasn’t supposed to be a post about politics, and it had never occurred to me that is what this would become, as I’m not (normally) a political animal. Or I didn’t think that I was one. But working opposite a quiet and thoughtful young man 2/3 my age was a revelatory experience (no pun intended).
I’m very glad that I was able to spend some time helping with the relevement. I’ve learned a lot, and not only about life in the vines. I’d have been happy enough with that, but Nick very kindly gave me a case of wine for my troubles. Now I just have to find an appropriate occasion to taste the fruit of their labours … or is that the fruit of mine?