Friday, September 26, 2008

Manual Labor is the way to go

For all of you uninformed on my life (which is odd since you're reading my blog) I am *finally* in swing with all my classes, well, starting Monday. Close enough. I am taking a course for preparation for taking the DELF (which is a national - government language for non-French residents to take to certify them to teach, work, anything basically is a fluency test), a course on the "patrimone" - history of architecture and culture in France, a course that is focusing on the history of economic thought, and lastly a biology lab course about wine and cheese.

That's right. Wine and cheese. It is, more correctly, a class that is exploring the terrain of France and how different products are grown in different places, particularly AOC (which stands for "Appellation d'origine contrôlée" translating to me "controlled term of origin") products. These are insanely regulated products in origin and is furthering into quality. For example: once a year an inspector comes and counts the BUDS on the vines for random plants throughout the vineyard and they each have to have 9 (I believe) or they'll lose their AOC licence. Also, AOC vineyards are forbidden to water their vines, it all has to be natural rain. Crazy people. Great (cheap!) wine.

So this past Thursday our professor signed us up to be the "vendages" for the vineyard called "Caves du Père Auguste" also known as the "grape pickers" or migrant workers all the way from the United States. We received a brief tour after walking up a HUGE hill up to the vines where in we tried lots of grapes off the vines of different wines. The first was a "fines bulles" wine grape which was tangy and incredible and the vine is over 100 years old!

Did you know? Red wines are grapes that have red pulp, white wines have a translucent pulp, but the outside skin can still be red (skin color has nothing to do with the type of wine! go figure! Though for different wines they use the skins differently, sometimes grapes are put into the vat whole and uncrushed and other times are put in as grape juice! Different techniques for different flavours).

We then each picked up a bucket and a pair of plant cutting scissors and got to work cutting grapes, filling our buckets, dumping the buckets into the "backpack buckets" on the backs of very strong, sturdy guys (the buckets full can weigh nearly 100 pounds!!) repeat until the vines have no more ripe grapes on them :) (We only worked for 3 hours...the people who do it all day are serious champions, serious champions in great shape, I am so sore today!)

The grapes we were picking were a "Gamay" - full name "gamay noir à jus blanc" which makes a red wine (which I totally bought a bottle of afterwards) that is apparently strong, but light, and fruity and is only cultivated by hand.
I'd like to note that this vineyard overlooks the valley of the River Cher and the Château de Chenonceau, known as one of the most beautiful castles in all of France.
After lots of not-so-long hours of working and very sticky fingers, we stopped and got to see the machine they use to strip the grapes from the stems and crush them into juice and then were allowed to try the freshly squeezed grape juice. Welch's could and really should take notes from them. This is the nectar of the earth, no joke.
We were then led into a room and were served a 5 course lunch with 4 different kinds of wines - a "fines bulles" (known in the United States as "champagne" which is blasphemously incorrect most of the time), a rosé (pink! very yummy), and 2 types of reds. Along with lots of cheeses, meats (I love that most of the time I have no idea what I'm eating and it's usually amazing), salads, pastas, and lastly - a pear tarte prepared by the 70 some odd year old great granddaughter of Père Auguste (the vineyard is now run by 3 of HER 4 children)

After a very long, very delicious meal (where in one of the young migrant workers "Franc" ate with us and was flirting shamelessly with 11 girls at the same time...pretty impressive, actually), we were given a tour of the "cave" or cellar of the establishment by the great-great granddaughter of Père Auguste. The limestone cave was dug out by our dear Père Auguste in 1880 by chipping away, putting dynamite in the stone, blasting it away over and over again, and then he used the rock to build the house and the cavern to store and make wine in! Genius!

My favorite part was going into a storage room with upwards of 300 bottles of wine, all covered in at least a quarter inch of dust, all unlabeled. Apparently the grandfather and father of our tour guide at one point forgot to label some bottles and when they took them out, they had forgotten what they were so into storage they went. The bottles are all around 50 years old. On special occasions the family takes one out and tries it, if it's great - fantastic! But if it's terrible they throw it out and pick up another bottle until they find something worth drinking!

We then all bought wine (three bottles 14 Euro...not bad) and sadly, departed.
Brilliant sort of day.

And when I came home Laura, another American, had arrived! Party in the house. It's nice having someone to talk to (still in French) that is a little more on my own wavelength. Tomorrow we're visiting two chateaux so look for another (highly pictorial) update soon!!

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