Sunday-Tuesday, Sept 24th-26th
As with our previous Sunday at the end of Week 1 this was a free, non-working, day. Despite that I was up at my usual hour and was again on my own in the room as Chef, Jean-Michel, had again disappeared in his pickup vehicle, taking the opportunity to have the day off at home with his family. As had become usual, the first into the kitchen element of our dining cave were tractor driver and long term domaine harvest regular Philippe and myself. I only managed to ‘beat’ Phillipe into the kitchen area once and not by much ! He’s an incredibly nice guy, ex Sapeur-Pompier officer, disciplined, neat, tidy and organised in all he did, and one of my favourite people from the vendange. We were soon joined, again as usual, by Michel (Gros) and another ‘senior’, older guy – a long time harvest regular, Jean-Pierre – a guy of few words; a sub team leader and triageist in the vines. J-P was to leave later that morning with an impressive amount of domaine wine loaded into his car. I envied his ability to take material advantage of the vendangeur discount (well worth having !) available from the domaine when I knew UK Customs Import restrictions would limit me doh !
I had a number of activities lined up that I wanted/needed to address hence headed off to Beaune circa 9.00 a.m. My first, very necessary, ‘visit’ was to the BP Petrol Station on the south side of Beaune as I’d not bought any fuel since arriving in Southern England before subsequently boarding my ferry to France. My French leg journey, return trips to Beaune, and taxiing services for Florient and Padhraig had combined to trigger the fuel reserve warning on my thirsty BMW when I’d last been in it. I’ve always preferred to find BP stations since owning my previous BMW from new for BP’s Ultimate best fuel.
Post refuelling I headed around the Beaune ‘peripherique’ (as I like to call it) and just off the western side parked up under trees and walked into town, sleepier than usual on this day of the week although a goodly number of folk were out and about enjoying the nice sunny weather. My destinations were two fold:- the superb retailer which is Athenaeum ( Athenaeum) for wifely ‘holiday’ gifts’, and to find a souvenir type shop which might sell the stone coasters featuring domaine or wine ‘transfer’ imprints. Domestically we’d had a few of the latter for some years but some of them had cracked or been otherwise damaged. I ‘struck gold’ in Athenaeum as, after buying a cloth tote bag with nice vineyard scene which would go down well at home, I then belatedly noticed an item I’d been meaning to acquire for many a year. This is a Rat de Cave candlestick, modelled on those used throughout France in the 18th and 19th centuries, for lighting in wine cellars. Mrs MdMdlV is, domestically, a very keen afficionado of many things candle and tea light related – always a concern at potentially burning one’s home down ! But, I knew I’d move very quickly, if not instantaneously, into very ‘good books’ on my return to the UK if I produced said Rat de Cave – quickly purchased. Delighted with this I went back through the Place Carnot and onto the Rue Monge before I found a shop (one of only a few open as a Sunday) selling souvenirs, wine related artefacts, kitchenware etc which, happily, had a decent display of the desired coasters outside. The gentleman proprietor was happy to accompany back outside from the front of the shop and take my chosen four coasters from his display – two of the four chosen by me as relating to personal association as featuring Domaine Michel Noellat, 2019 & 2020 harvest employers.
So, good progress, two of my three tasks suitably accomplished I headed back out of Beaune to the Leclerc supermarket, off the D974, on the retail park before/adjacent to the A6. Here my ‘mission’ was twofold, namely:-
1) with a shopping list formed before I left the UK to acquire various regional products (tinned & otherwise), confectionery & drink (Cremants); and
2) get myself some food for lunch and dinner (sandwiches, crisps etc). Michel had politely made clear to me at breakfast that, as a non working day, lunch and dinner would not be provided – not a problem as I’d already assumed just that. I always enjoy a saunter around the Leclerc, a superior retailer to the Nuits Intermarche. I hadn’t really intended to buy any wine alongside my other shopping but, when idly ‘researching’ the Wine Sections, as I passed by on my way to my list purchases I couldn’t resist the surprise sighting (not expecting to see such a name in the Leclerc) of just a few (4) top shelf bottles of Domaine Laurent & Karen Boussey (Monthelie) 2020 Meursault ‘Les Meurgers’ . I’d had two previously enjoyable visits to the above domaine in Monthlie and, co-located, that of Denis Boussey, Laurent’s father. The wines of Laurent, a keen vineyard photographer, imho are markedly superior to his father’s. After my surprised double take at seeing the above bottles I did a quick mental calculation of how many bottles I could consider within the overall number of bottles I would take back to the UK & swiftly, with hand rubbing type satisfaction, removed three from the shelf. I would add to these later on my way around the store with two bottles of Domaine Vincent Prunier 2020 Auxey-Duresses Blanc, Auxey a village who’s wines I’ve long been keen on. I would have ideally liked to call, as in previous years, at Domaine Diconne in Auxey but had realised, reluctantly, that would not be possible in terms of time available and how many bottles I could repatriate without potentially falling foul of UK Customs.
Quite satisfied with my morning’s activities which would go a long way to setting me up for a smooth, post vendange departure ‘as and when’, I cruised back to Vosne. I’d seen just a handful of domaines in the vines heading to Beaune and similarly on my way back mostly, but not all, on the flat lands east of the route nationale.
Entering the domaine premises, having parked the car opposite, I headed for the dining cave intending to eat my sandwich lunch there and get one of my remaining stash of beers from one of the fridges. I was a little taken aback surprised, and not best pleased in truth, given the advices first thing of need to provide for oneself, to find lunch preparation under way for the remaining (the annoying, problematic, youth had all but one below departed on Saturday) Belgian element of three (Mother Francoise, the middle aged lady sax player, whom I’d never really taken to, her daughter, and the remaining 20 something pest, Bastian, perhaps her son who I was quite sure was one of the ring leaders in past bothers – he seemed to have lost much of his past cocky bravado now he was on his own), Philippe, Jean-Pierre and Michel. I readied myself to decline an anticipated invite but such was not forthcoming – rather rude to say the least I thought – so I headed down to the opposite end of the cellar to ‘enjoy’ my sandwiches, crisps and beer. Hum ! Finishing my lunch, I headed back through the kitchen, to my car & then bedroom to get laptop, camera, notebook etc to work thro the afternoon on stuff for Bill whilst following UK Sport on the internet. Coming back from my car I met Michel coming out thro the yard gates onto the street. He told me chattily he was off to visit his son in another village property he, Michel, owned in Vosne. I knew, or thought, Michel had three sons from his first marriage but chatting he surprised me by saying that he had 4 sons (Pierre, another who works in private banking in Paris, and two others). Michel further surprised, if not amazed me, in telling me the son he was off to visit had broken fibia and tibia in one leg in Clos des Reas on the first day of the vendange via jumping or similar over a row of vines – that was what I understood anyway. A goodly element of my surprise was that I’d no idea he’d had said son working with us on Day 1 or of the accident which had needed a hospital visit/treatment. Wishing his son a speedy recovery we parted but not before Michel reminded me there would be no evening meal – an ‘interesting’ comment after my lunch experience but one I took ‘on the chin’ ! Quasi related, I’d assumed Michel lived in Vosne, if not in the old, multi floored, house adjacent to Mugneret-Gibourg we were using, but this was not so. For the vendange Michel did indeed use some rooms off the first landing before the first floor my room and another were on. The ladies had rooms further up on two more floors. I can’t recall how it come out but someone told me he actually lived in Beaune with his second wife. This was mentioned to me as my informant, and have absolutely no recall who this was (honest !), also imparted that the 2nd Mrs Gros had no desire to live in a sleepy hollow wine village. During one of our Toyota trips Michel had laughingly said to me he wanted me to return to my wife in full health to which my response had been my wife was probably more bothered about clothes shopping than my vendange health. That comment had brought ready and amused shared agreement from Michel whilst he was driving. Recall of his comment at wives shopping came back to me when I was told of his maison being in Beaune. In a later conversation he told me where his Beaune house was – without too much detail near to Parc de la Bouzaise which I recalled from a randonee around the Beaune vineyards.
The afternoon passed peacefully & without interruption, the working yard of the domaine quiet outside the end of the cellar I was sat in for wi-fi range. Eventually, and thinking I should make myself scarce if there were to be supper for others, I initially retreated to my room with my working stuff before quickly sneaking back for a little bread & cheese plus the remains, from my second Beaune visit (before today), of a bottle of L & A Lignier, 2006 Morey St.Denis 1er ‘Cuvée Romain Lignier’ – very much enjoyed with my sandwiches, bread and cheese !
And so to bed for a rare early night. To come, at last, our final working day (or part thereof).
I’d meant to be up for 6.00 a.m. but slept to 6.10 before being in the dining cave for 6.45. It was at this point, from Phillipe I think, I finally learnt this would be our final morning. Breakfast included a pleasant surprise in that Michel, bless him – what a nice man, had already been out to a local boulangerie coming back with two large bags – one of pain au chocolats, the other croissants (and all good sized, ‘generous’ examples). Invited to help myself I happily tucked into a pain au chocolat with my Liptons breakfast tea which, after initial mornings of black coffees, had become my preferred daily starting drink of choice.
There still seemed to be plenty of us milling around the domaine gates pre departure, if not quite as before, but I also noted quite a few previously familiar faces to be missing – my friend Angela was no longer with us, nor was FonFon, Irishman Padhraig or Justine and, not to be missed, were the young couple of annoying work shy, do nothing, girl and boyfriend. I guessed that perhaps due to our vendange being protracted, and this being a Monday of a new working week lay behind the reduced team and absence of previous personnel. With the Citroen Jumpy not required I was happy to be back in prime position in Michel’s Toyota Land Cruiser in which we departed behind the minibuses and large white van, latter piloted as usual by the ever-engaging Flo of amusing bright blue framed spectacles.
Gabriel was still with us & as always giving us the benefit of his wisdom and expertise on anything and everything. Today he had again, for the first time in many days, brought his sweet dog with him although she remained in, or tied to the bumper of his car, at the domaine. There seemed to be something of an unedifying background to this dog which had deeply upset me when Gabriel first brought it with him on what I think was his second day. On that morning, which was wet and cold, I’d noticed it, before we departed for the morning, fastened to the rear bumper of his tatty, aged, dark red Peugeot 206 in the parking area. I’d tried, as is my wont, to befriend it (not scarred by my earlier Jack Russell experience) but had been a little shocked at the manner in which it continually pulled away from me, whilst cringing to the ground in highly subservient manner, and slightly wagging its tail in a pathetic way. I’d immediately taken the view that the animal, from appearance a Malinois type cross (but somewhat smaller than a full Malinois) had been, or was being, badly treated, if not beaten. On that initial day I’d tackled Gabriel directly at how the dog was behaving, and why that might be, making it quite clear I was upset and far from impressed. His response was matter of fact & that he understood my asking but said the dog was completely different with women i.e good, but had been ill treated before it came into his ownership. I wasn’t necessarily convinced and during the night that followed that day I had struggled to sleep properly thinking & worrying about the dog. If Gabriel had offered it to me I would have had a decision to make but would have taken it readily and if not able to give it a home myself (my cat back in England would not have been impressed) would have found it a decent one. On this day, in the little time before we headed to the Hautes-Cotes I did manage to make initial friends with, and show some human affection to Jessie, as was her name, when I was also joined by the very sweet Italian girl owner of Acho who certainly did know how to properly treat a dog.
The day was bright enough in Vosne as we left but cool & without any sunshine, the Toyota’s dash temp reading 8°C as we travelled. The Hautes-Cotes was a tad gloomy on arrival at the site we’d left before Saturday lunch – our 4th separate domaine HCDN terroir which I assumed was ‘Topet’ the fruit of which goes into the generic HCDN Rouge. We parked, as we’d done on the Saturday on the corner edge of a large grassy clearing just above the vines which dropped away down slope away from us. Initially, we strolled to the points in our initial rows from Saturday afternoon where we’d stopped for the day and recommenced to finish those rows off. I was again in tandem with the bespectacled young French guy and a new individual, a middle aged Afro-Caribbean lady. The latter who seemed of an unfriendly disposition, and not to know anyone, turned out to be a bit of a pest and annoying. Principally this was because she stopped on several occasions for lengthy (and loud) conversations on her mobile phone but when that wasn’t frustrating enough she failed to work suitably in tandem with myself and the French guy, i.e from and to the correct points between post sections. Early on in proceedings I decided that as it was our last day ‘that life was too short’ to let her bother me further and just to concentrate on myself. Finishing the first rows at the bottom of the vineyard we had a decent water break rest before turning around and working back up hill in new rows towards the vehicles. At one point as we worked Acho suddenly appeared beside me chasing something in the grass which turned out to be a mouse or vole. As he was about to grab it by my feet I managed to deflect him away with the prey animal escaping under a bucket and around a case thro the row to its other side. I thought I’d saved his target but learnt shortly thereafter he’d subsequently caught and eaten it !! There was plenty of volume of Pinot here again as the case across most of the Hautes-Cotes terroir but here again occasional rot to require disciplined self triage and quite a lot of what my colleagues called ‘rose’ bunches, not properly ripe or suitably coloured such that quite an amount of this stuff was dumped on the ground. At one point, and towards what was to become the conclusion, my group was joined in cutting/picking by both Michel and Philippe.
Come c11.00 a.m. I was a little startled to hear a final finish called as I’d been expecting we’d work to at least c12.00/12.30 & possibly a little beyond if that was necessary to get us to a suitable draw a line point (as had occasionally happened with Arlaud & M Noellat). As it was we left some yards of our final rows unfinished which I assume the domaine staff would complete later. Naturally my colleagues were keen to head back to Vosne but, as tradition for a vendange conclusion, not before various greenery was gathered to decorate/attach to the vehicles. Before everyone left and I missed my chance I shouted entreaties to request a final group photo shot – not just for myself but also for the Domaine as sometime in the last day or so Juliette had asked me if I would share my vendange photos for the Domaine’s use – ready agreement of course. From the two Group photos I took here I subsequently counted 24 individuals. To be added for final headcount would be me, Gabriel, Philippe, Sofiane and Jerome (the latter 4 not available for the photos as in the vines collecting cases onto the tractors and trailers). So, as our finale, 28 of us without including Michel, Pierre, Juliette and their other domaine employees. There were 3 additional guys helping in the cuverie so as I saw it we finished as approximately a reduced group of 31 from a peak headcount of somewhere between 50-60 in week 1.
After the minibuses and white van had disappeared, I enjoyed a little welcome time alone with my reflective thoughts waiting by the Toyota once I’d collected & stowed in the rear the extraneous stuff such as water panniers, cups, a couple of spare cases, one or two items of clothing and a couple of the small blue tripod seats. This short quiet time was a brief, pleasant, interlude during which I watched both a hawk and then some noisy jays along the tree/hedge line on the vineyard edge. I was initially concerned, waiting for the final guys, then amused, to note my camera had ‘expired’ after the Group shots. As subsequently confirmed the battery had finally gone flat, without me noticing the reducing power level, but after lasting the full vendange – well done Canon ! I’ve owned my Canon G16 from 2014 thus, whilst maybe now not the last word in upto date camera technology, it has ‘survived’ quite some ‘abuse’ (wet, dirt etc) and given sterling service through 8 harvests. I’d like to be more ‘into’ photography but am not and, in truth, use my camera little outside my vendanges and the odd family holiday hence for now, and with the G16 still going, find it hard to justify expense of an upgrade, particularly when there’s always more wine to buy !
Eventually, with Philippe and Gabriel taking the laden tractor/trailer combos back to Vosne, I was joined by Michel, Sofiane and Jerome, three fine chaps all, for our final exit from the delightful, much enjoyed, Hautes-Cotes and return to Vosne via the now familiar route through the residential outskirts of Nuits St Georges, then the vines, to the Domaine.
An earlier than usual lunch was salad starter, carbonara, cheese and fruit. I was pleased to see Gabriel, who’d beaten us back to Vosne with the first tractor departure, and was amongst the greedier element first into lunch, had brought dog Jessie into the dining cave (the other dogs were commonly present at lunch/dinner) and that she seemed very happy and enjoyed the odd titbit passed her way as well as being fussed over by folk passing her end of table position. Bless. Post wine and coffee, and back outside, quite a queue had formed to go into the office (bureau) to one by one see Juliette to receive wages and the complimentary ‘bonus’ 3 bottle box of wine before those then leaving (most folk) said their goodbyes – for me this notably included Sofiane (a really nice guy), young man of few words Julian, and originally from Lebanon Clodagh who was amongst the first to nicely chat to me on Day 1, and was one of our few who’d worked the full vendange. I’d agreed with Juliette I was happy to wait to collect my wages the following day – no rush.
After folk had largely drifted away, including room-mate Chef, & personally at something of a loose end, with my thoughts already turning to my own departure (I’d previously decided Tuesday having secured Juliette’s agreement I would be ok to stay one more night in my room but detecting I’d be pushing it to ask for longer !) I started my in room, and then to car, packing – separating work and non-work attire, and with the worn, dirty gear, I’d piled into a corner to all go in black bin liner. I binned my oldest, splitting, and well-worn pair of knee pads along with gloves past their further useful use date, keeping only my now favourite De Walt knee pads and good gloves. I also decided on my travelling clothing, keeping that to one side. With time to kill, and not enthused to get on my laptop immediately, I set off to the cuverie, & whilst passing through the shared yard saw the Mugneret-Gibourg team pressing in the entrance to their cuverie. The Mugneret-Gibourg sisters had from Day 1 been super friendly nice with/to me. We never saw each other without exchanging the time of day, or more besides. Lovely people. Their small cuverie team of 4/5, two of whom were also female, were similarly supa friendly, always calling greetings across the yard (their cuverie door was almost opposite the kitchen entrance end of the Gros dining cave). On this afternoon, intrigued by the pressing, after a few days were the M-G cuverie work had been ‘quiet’, seemingly completed, I wandered across to be told they were pressing Ruchottes-Chambertin grapes – wow ! The cuverie smell was headily to die for. Leaving them to continue I dived thro the Gros cave to the far end, up into the domaine yard proper, and into the Gros cuverie where I found Pierre had made a short visit – congratulations on the birth of Constance were in order & received shyly with thanks.
I can’t recall exactly what I did for supper – think it might just have been 3 or 4 of us finishing off leftovers. My car was as packed as it could be other than stuff needed for overnight and morning ablutions hence, after I’d used my laptop & wi-fi for the final time to book a DFDS Calais – Dover 18.00 hrs Tuesday ferry, I turned in for my last night. The old multi floored Gros house was now eerily quiet with myself the only occupier. All beds bar mine were stripped ready for laundry and rubbish had been collected to bin bags.
Just myself, Philippe who would also leave that morning for his Belfort home, and Michel at my final breakfast. Disappointingly, if unsurprisingly, the pain au chocolats from Monday morning had all gone so I had to content myself, no hardship, with Michel’s entreaties to finish off the croissants. I mused on my timetable for the day. I reasoned I should aim to be away from Vosne by approx. 11.00 a.m, to pace myself ( and the car for fuel economy), and allowing for comfort break stops, to arrive Calais ferry port check in by 17.00 hrs. I had scope in my UK wine import allowance to allow for a last 6 pack so decided to head for Domaine Arlaud to say my goodbyes there and, if possible, acquire some of their HCDN Chardonnay which I’ve always enjoyed (if not for a few years). After Arlaud I would have time to come back to Gros, collect my wages and wines, then head for the autoroute with a pitstop at the Nuits Intermarche to buy some lunch. I already agreed a Southern England overnight stop at my Aunt’s in Sevenoaks, Kent from where I would, on Wednesday, complete the last leg of my c650 mile return journey to North West England.
Heading for my car I met the just arriving Juliette (and Prunelle) and confirmed I’d be back for wages etc. Off to Morey, taking a route through the vines from the Vougeot roundabout, to Chambolle, then Morey passing Bonnes-Mares and MSD Ruchots amongst other terroirs. Dropping down thro Morey to the route nationale I caught, without being able to properly take in, with eyes needing to be on the street, a quick glimpse of the new, completed, Dujac premises extension which had been a building site when I last saw in 2020. At Arlaud cheery greetings from the cuverie guys, a great bunch, notably Mathieu and Climent. Cyprien turned out to be in a serious looking meeting with his main office lady but broke off to speak. To buy some wine would be problematic he explained he would need to pull one of the guys off what they were doing to label, foil, and pack what I wanted. This clearly would not work for me so I said I would leave, hopefully for 2024. Cyp professed himself very happy with the harvest – in line with my experience – quantity and quality. I bade my farewells and headed back to Vosne to be invited into the office by Juliette and given my wages. To my surprise, as I’d assumed without too much thought I’d be paid direct to my UK bank account, my wages were in cash – net of the cost of the discounted wines I’d subscribed for pre-vendange. I didn’t want to rudely study the paperwork but quickly noted I’d received my largest harvest salary by some distance even after paying for the aforesaid wines – nice ! In line of course with the hours worked as also by some distance my longest harvest worked. From this point it was just a matter of my wines being brought out on a palate for loading into my car reversed into the yard, confirming to Juliette I would send her all my harvest photos which she was keen to have, and then saying my goodbyes to all present – regrettably not including Michel who was unexplained absent – a pity.
And so, regretfully as in all good things must come to an end, I left the Rue des Communes for the last time. Quick ‘pitstop’ at the Nuits Intermarche to acquire lunch & bottled water then across town to join the A31 at the Nuits interchange heading north, soon leaving Burgundy behind, and eventually to Calais, just needing a foot down, quick spurt in the final kilometres to arrive on time.
And so endeth my 14th vendange, my first with the most excellent Domaine Michel Gros, courtesy of the well-timed initial opportunity alert from Bill which enabled me to ‘sign up’ at the outset. Thank you Bill, and for publishing my photo illustrated experiences. My favourite vendange ? Not really, not because I didn’t enjoy it – I absolutely did – but because I don’t have a favourite. Each harvest is a differing unique experience. What set this one apart was a new domaine, the manner in which the domaine conducted the harvest which was very professional, a very well-paced working environment with our never being worked unduly hard, weekend breaks, excellent accommodation and meals (up there with the best I’ve experienced), super people with Michel Gros just a fabulous stand out supa nice man, and odd quirks for me such as this being the first of fourteen harvests were I didn’t (need to) get involved in such as bucket cleaning (and was actively told not to !). New terroir experiences were very welcome, Richebourg wow (!) and, whilst ‘purists’ and others might look down their noses and/or be ‘sniffy’ about the Hautes-Cotes, I just loved being up there and experiencing those terroirs. To the domaine, and most of my fellow vendangeurs, thank you – it was wonderful; hope to see you all again next year.
I think I deserve a glass or two of Burgundy now – what shall I open 😊 ?