Sticky Fingers

The good news is, I'm toiling in the vineyards of the Loire valley, helping collect grapes for the famed natural vintners Jean-Marie and Thierry Puzelat. The bad news is I'm working hard enough that I barely have time to blog about all the fabulous wine I've been tasting. The day starts at sunrise amidst the dewy vines, and for most of the day my fingers are so sticky and covered in grape juice that I'm afraid to get my camera out, lest I gum it up with natural sugars. Nevertheless, I've managed to take a few snaps.

Côt, the grape that goes into Puzelat's wittily named "In Côt we Trust."

One of my fellow vendangeurs (grape harvesters). Her french is only marginally better than my chinese, which is to say just about good enough for us painstakingly to have established that she is from China. Her silver rice paddy hat wins her the vendange fashion award for 2010. There are painful similarities between my posture picking grapes and those archetypal National Geographic style images of South-East Asian women bent double in the rice paddies.

Grapes. (Not Thierry Puzelat's: note the lack of grass, weeds and wild herbs, and the regimented rows, like box-hedges. These are vines that have had fertilizer treatments and likely been sprayed with pesticides, and they will be harvested by machine, not by our merry band of vendangeurs. Thierry's look wilder and rawer, vines growing in a complete ecosystem. But the mist in the background was irresistible.)

The team to beat when it comes to making time down the rows is a family foursome from Laos, including the eternally smiling matriarch known simply as Mother.

Many more grapes. The only psychological relief from picking comes from reaching the end of a row, but the rows vary wildly in length. One commonly hears expressed such sentiments as "what a bitch of a row that was," although the length of the row has no impact on the length of the day.

I could get in really big trouble here, as nationalism seems to be a strong suit in Eastern Europe, but I'm pretty sure Artur is from Estonia Poland and Igor is from Latvia.

Menu Pineau, or Arbois. Thierry Puzelat is one of the few producers of this all but forgotten grape, with which he makes incredible white wine. That's him humping some sort of case in the background.

The writer's hands at the end of a row of ripe-to-bursting Gamay.

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