On Sunday, September 6, I packed my bags and hopped on a train out to Beaujolais. It took just about 3 hours to get there, which involved taking a high speed TGV to Lyon, and then a slower normal speed train to Belleville sur Saone. This 3 hour duration is pretty impressive, since we had just driven from Lyon to Paris a few days earlier, and it took 4.5 hours, without really stopping at all. Gotta love the high speed trains here!
Originally, I was supposed to work the harvest at Domaine LaPierre. This was a pretty exciting prospect, as Marcel LaPierre basically started the whole idea of natural wine-making, along with his mentor Chauvet, in the 70's. So the place is somewhat of a mecca for natural wine freaks like myself. I've also had the wine many many times and absolutely love it. Unfortunately, all the spaces at Domaine LaPierre were taken up by people that had been there before. So Marcel's wife, Marie, offered a place at Chateau Cambon instead. The Cambon wine is vinified by Marcel as well, and uses all the same natural methods. I'd never tried it, but what I read said that the wine was very similar to LaPierre's wine, just a bit cheaper. I always like to find a good value, so I figured it'd be fine. But I didn't really know what the differences would be.
I took a couple snapshots right when I arrived at Cambon. First, of our sleeping quarters:
And second, of our dining room:
Then I headed off to tasting room, a really cool room with a bunch of giant barrels (in wine speak we call them foudres) and a table. I introduced myself to everyone seated there by shaking all their hands and saying my name. I realized later I was the only one to do this. There we proceeded to drink wine. And drink more wine. Gradually over the next hour or two, my fellow harvest workers started to filter in to the Domaine. As each person came in, they would say hello, and perhaps even shake hands, but generally people didn't say their names. As I realized by the end of this experience, it seems French people don't really do it that way. They don't say their names and introduce themselves when they shake hands. They often say "Bonjour" or "Bon soir," offer the hand and that's it. It feels really weird to me to shake someone's hand I don't know without offering my name, but that's the way they do it here. And sometimes you shake a womans hand, but other times you have to the double cheek kissing thing. I still haven't really figured out how that works. Anyway, my American etiquette really didn't ruffle any feathers, so all was well.
Our harvest crew turned out to consist of mostly French people, and quite a lot of women. In fact I think the women outnumbered the men barely. The non-French included myself, two Quebecois, and one Polish guy, who didn't know a lick of French, but spoke English pretty well. I got to speak a little, and got some compliments on my French, which was nice. They seemed to be surprised that they could understand me when I spoke. My comprehension though, was another story entirely. When someone spoke to me directly, I could get enough of the gist to reply appropriately. But when I was trying to listen to the conversation around me, I could understand I'd say about 15%.
So I just sat and tried to soak it all in, while drinking lots and lots of Beaujolais. And, hey, the wine was pretty good! Not quite as concentrated as the Marcel LaPierre wines I'd had before, but it did have that subtle floral natural wine quality I find so intriguing and addicting. It's the perfect kind of wine to drink daily with your meal. It's a very versatile wine, it can go with just about any food. And the wine goes for about $16 (as opposed to $22 for the LaPierre) in the States, so I'd say that's a pretty good value.