Arlaud Vendange Day 11, Thursday 13th September 2018
And so to our final day. The inevitable tinge of sadness/melancholy for me that I’d soon be leaving this wondrous place, for which I have developed so much affection for over the years from first arriving in 2008. I guess quirky Morey-St-Denis is deep in my soul, along with the domaine, the terroirs, vines and fellow vendangeurs over the years. Well, there’s always another year, meantime we ain’t quite finished yet so need to address this day before we’re ‘done’. I was quietly cum confidently thinking we might just have a few local Bourgogne type terroirs to do, and that ‘management’, in all probability, were likely aiming to have us done by lunch or, at ‘worst’, just after. How wrong would I be, in reality this day turned, from my own perspective, into something of a very surprising organisational, management, debacle which was almost a nightmare – BUT we came through it !
The early morn started cloudy and a lot, lot, cooler finally – praise be – than any previous current vendange a.m. start . A bit late maybe but nevertheless welcome. My thoughts had already started to turn to what I might do in the immediate vendange aftermath (as I always want to stay a day or two for ‘me time’ and had a list of errands/missions to undertake for a long time friend) and when I might return to the UK. For now though a few first thing photos to ‘grab’, including the expectant team, waiting vehicles, sun coming up over the Raphet vegetable patch, and J-P Feral wearing his favourite (well, seems to me it’s his favourite as has made me smile in past years) tee shirt with its ‘j’ai un charme fou’ chest wording translating as ‘I have a crazy charm’ – well, guess such is one way of describing himself, but perhaps he has, oh yes – he does, bless him, a remarkable man !
Usual time, usual departure, usual absence of other teams yet in the vines (as we will be first again) but a not usual (in any way) first plot which, personally, location wise came as a big surprise as entirely new to me for the first time in nine years. Aligote (again) as well, another surprise. The sky first thing as we’d left the village had been remarkable with broken cloud shot through with a striking orange rising sun. Superb. Location wise we were again across the RN 74 east of the village, past the grande maison plot of a couple of days ago, going slightly further north on the same metalled vineyard road (Chemin des Aires ? Or the unnamed road below that ?). Map wise I’d estimate we were maybe below the edge of ‘Les Crais’ or ‘Les Cognees’, possibly as far as being in ‘Les Pertuisees’ (but maybe not that far), looking west up to the village some way off. The Aligote has looked really, really good this year, the summer must have favoured it, and Cyprien subsequently confirmed it was indeed a good year for the varietal – he said it can be difficult to get the right skin colour but no such issues this year. Both quality and quantity, some notably large bunches, including here on this early morn. First plot done we moved only a short distance for Aligote Plot 2 which took us up to after 10.00 a.m. and thereafter, on an unplanted area of rough grass/bare ground, took our by now well established casse-croute and drinks break. Seemed a little longer interlude than usual, chance to take more photos of both the team and looking up to the Morey village properties in the distance, but eventually back to work. I was still in quite relaxed, methodical, no need to ‘bust a gut’, picking mode, my mind kinda dialled in to a wishful thinking likely lunchtime or just before/after finish.
Post Aligote 1 & 2 we moved to some Bourgogne Rouge. Memory is a bit hazy here as to whether it was close to our rest area or elsewhere. I’m fairly sure it was the latter, and on the other (south) side of the village, still ‘below’ the main road, reached along the Chemin des Poisots . We were in the same sort of area we’d picked Aligote on the 7th September but some rows along, nearer to the commercial property on the top part of the Rue d’Epernay nearest to the main road, with the (long) rows running from the Chemin above up to the edge of the RN74. Long rows again here, can’t remember now if we made more than one pass, or if we doubled up – don’t think we did. A couple of photos though, taken at 12.03, as we walked along the grassed top of the vineyard just below the main road to some more rows, give some clue as to what was now happening and, for me, wheels coming off in terms of management. The sharper reader amongst anyone reading this might be ahead of me by now and thinking 12.00 = lunch (and lunch means back to our village base – unless on the Hautes-Cotes). I’ve not worn a watch for years, and don’t mean just for the vendange, and (for the vendange) don’t carry my mobile phone, taking the view I can check it lunch or evening & if someone wants me they can leave a voicemail or send a text. As such, in the vines I only tend to have a general impression what the time might be, unless I ask someone. I had asked a little earlier to be told it was 11.30 at the time but, thereafter at c12.00, it was abundantly clear we weren’t going for lunch (or not then anyway). At first, I didn’t think a lot of this, surmising we maybe hadn’t got much more to do, and thus ‘management’ had decided we would just see off the last vines. Herve had disappeared as well. Maybe he’d gone for his lunch !
One thing I’ve learnt from the vendange, if I didn’t know it already from travelling in France, is how very seriously important lunch is to the French. Quite different from the UK. So, musing on no break immediately for lunch, although confidently thinking we’d maybe soon finish altogether, I wondered how my colleagues would react. Initially, they didn’t, I guess maybe thinking the same as me, but as we continued in the same general area to move around, cutting small plots/small numbers of rows here and there, time passed and soon I was conscious of some collective unease and mutterings from some – not unreasonably I thought.
By approaching 14.30 we were about to start a ‘scruffy’ short rows section of Bourgogne Rouge I knew of old, which always has extensive foliage & is difficult to cut, now on the east side of the Chemin des Poisots where the road kinks & continues for maybe c200 yards towards the RN74. Here matters got a little more serious and, whilst I wouldn’t say there was potential mutiny, a drinks break was the catalyst for in charge Climent not unsurprisingly to come under some semi (or quite)-serious & unhappy verbal challenging of the “What on earth is going on”, “What about lunch”’ “It’s 14.30 and we’ve had no lunch” variety. Whilst to a certain extent, if it had been justified to me, I could pass on lunch, nevertheless I was pretty baffled myself what was going on and why. I think Climent got on his phone, or it rang, but can’t be sure about this but, whilst we were sitting around, and at least we were having a rest, Cyprien turned up suddenly in his Volvo SUV and started dishing out casse-croute type baguette sandwiches. Hum ! To me, it looked like there’d been a bit of a panic on to get some sort of food, belatedly, to ‘the troops’. No one offered me a sandwich; but I was standing on the fringe of the group, at the start of the latest row I’d been allocated, feeling tres fatigue (and the rest) and frankly couldn’t be bothered over a bit of chewy bread & what might be in it. I was more bothered about an explanation as to what was going on and what we were going to be doing after our latest location. No explanation was forthcoming.
Break over, we started the latest. I’d cut a couple of bunches whilst fighting & inwardly cursing foliage then, on my knees, had to duck and lean into the vine to allow a couple of others to pass by me down my row as we were numerically enough to double or triple up. All vendange I’d managed to avoid any injury, including cutting any fingers, and had settled on a great pair of striking yellow & black robust gloves I’d bought for the 2017 vendange but not worn. I’d been wearing these ideal, tough, but flexible gloves from about Day 2 or 3 – after the rubber gloves I’d started in had become ripped quickly & fallen apart – and whilst I’d nicked a couple of the glove finger tips nothing more serious had happened. But, now, the inevitable occurred and, probably distracted by ducking out of the way of the others, seriously tired, and struggling with foliage and awkward bunches, I cut the top of my left index finger in an eye watering way with a loud yelp. Fearing the worst, I gently removed the glove and, wiping some blood, realised I’d actually cut across the top of the finger nail, not quite from one side to the other. The finger nail quick, or some of it, seemed to be hanging out. Some sort of relief came from gently sucking my finger as all I could think to do and waiting a few moments for the pain to diminish. Looking again at my finger/nail I realised if there was some consolation I’d cut across the fingernail or otherwise matters might have been more serious. Pain & discomfort though was followed by some ‘red-mist’ anger ‘at the world’ as, rightly or wrongly, I was blaming our/my by now mid afternoon predicament, fatigue, etc etc for cutting myself so painfully & ironically almost at the end of the vendange. This anger sustained my gently pulling the glove back on, the glove finger tip cut open, and continuing down my row where fortunately my doubling/tripling companions had covered for my impromptu medical pause. I was still inwardly seething though as we got back on the track through the vines and walked a distance to a large tree which I knew, of old, was a ‘marker’ for the Arlaud plot of Gamay which we’d not been to for at least two years (frosted in 2016, not sure why no visit in 2017). The rows here are horizontally ‘across’, rather than up/down from Chemin to RN74, and finish on a track, on the other side of which is a PVC Windows, Doors, Conservatory business. Herve by now was back with us but just acting as a couper (picker). The quality, and quantity, of the Gamay here was quite impressive, and I might have been more impressed if the afternoon wasn’t still moving on with no apparent final end in sight. I did have something of a second (or third) wind here and picked well, finger still very painful, taking some care not to catch it again. We were doubled, or tripled, again but as we finished I realised there was someone lagging behind me (can’t recall who now) and went back to help them get ‘over the line’. As we then exited the rows, praise be, I thought I’d heard more than one mention ‘that was indeed it’, and we’d finished, with it now well after 15.00 hrs. Seizing the moment I shook hands with a few around me (which no one queried !) before taking off knee pads, gloves etc & climbing wearily into the van front seat alongside J-P Feral who, incongruously, was chomping on a large banana, having ‘recycled’ the skin by throwing into the vines.
So, I thought we’d finished ! That comfy, relaxing, thought lasted, having moved from the Chemin des Poisots going north onto the Chemin des Petites Rues, as far as the latter’s junction with the Rue des Jardins, when I realised, with deep sinking feeling, that we weren’t heading back to ‘upper’ Morey but instead were retracing our morning steps which we did until coming to a plot I well recognised. This was Bourgogne Rouge but as about as far east as it is possible to go without ‘hitting’ the railway line. We first visited this plot only a few years ago i.e it didn’t feature at all in my first years at Arlaud – whether it’s a new acquisition or has been picked by the domaine team/machine initially I couldn’t say. I think we did this in 2016 (we definitely did in 2017) but whichever of those two years is in my head it was a complete so and so of a plot to deal with. I go on about ‘long’ rows but the one’s here I’m pretty sure are the longest we do. Just what one needs late in the afternoon on a supposed (by now I was a doubter) final day. So, fatalistically, everyone seemingly past moaning or complaint by now but, like me, apparently grimly determined to see matters out, we set off down the rows – at least tripled up, myself thankfully with two ‘good uns’, Laetitia and the Japanese guy. The only laughter and chat seemed the preserve of the porteurs. And so to a staggering (for me) exit of this last row. This WAS absolutely ‘it’. Climbing one last time into the van it was 17.15 which I could hardly comprehend, about as at odds with what I’d expected as possible to imagine. I’m pretty sure this was, without a doubt, the most ‘sauvage’ and unpleasant last ‘sting in the tail’ day in my 9 year domaine vendange history – ultimately grim ! Total relief, waves of fatigue, etc etc were all mentally mixed up with bemusement at what we’d been led to throughout the day. Ultimately, I pondered, Cyprien (if not Herve although I wonder here) must have been ‘hell bent’ on our finishing on this day at all costs – which must have been/can only be the explanation for where we’d been, timings, no formal lunch etc etc – if understandable. In essence we’d had a very full day indeed (!) and finished about ‘normal time’. Incredible. I also reflected overall, as we drove back to base, just where we had been throughout the whole vendange and the sites/terroirs we’d picked. We’d been to places, despite 9 years, I’d never been to before. We MUST have picked absolutely every plot of vines the domaine owns or has on a negoce basis (except the NSG I’ve mentioned previously), certainly the ‘lesser’ sites. I psyched myself up for one last bucket & secateurs cleaning session when we got back. Arlaud have always been for me unique in that most (it seems) other domaines make a very noisy (vehicle horns etc) last return to their bases when they’ve finished and often decorate vehicles with pieces of vine branches, foliage etc but we’ve never done this, 2018 no exception, with a very quiet, everyone alone with their own thoughts, return to Morey. Manoeuvring the vehicles to finally park up in the Arlaud yard Herve called out there was no need to wash buckets or secateurs that evening – a let off of sorts although I’d have ‘happily’ done, just to draw a final line on proceedings. Heading wearily though for my room, mentally working out my evening timings, I peeled off into the washroom/ toilet ‘basement’, ‘ceremoniously’ confining my battered, almost worn out knee pads, and by now very second hand gloves, to the waste wheelie bin therein seeing no merit/need to take such back to the UK, well though those items had served me. Only remained to get my wash bag and have a shave and cleansing shower before the evening proceedings – latter to be subject of a separate ‘note’ hereafter. BUT, we’d finished, thank goodness, an ultimately satisfying, if probably longest (in days) vendange I’d worked in 11 years (9 at Arlaud). Phew ! Just one stand out ? The heat throughout, without a doubt !
Jusqu’à la prochaine 😉. Paulee, and final two days roaming detail to follow.
Marko de Morey 1st October 2018.