I've heard it be said that we cannot remember, or “refeel”, physical pain- that our subconscious has no need to remember pain once its gone away- and we are therefore left with a blank slate where the hurt used to be. I don't know if that's true, and I don't have any neurologists nearby to ask, but I will say that when I think back on my memories of this year's vendanges in the Loire Valley, aches and pain don't come to mind once.
This is not to say that harvesting grapes isn't excruciating and arduous work- because it is. Bending, kneeling, and inventing new poses that don't torment strained muscles and joints becomes an overwhelming occupation as you walk rows of vines, equipped with a bucket and a pruner, hunting down Gamay and Sauvignon grapes by the bunch. Despite the pain that greets you every morning, you keep going, because the harvest is about more than picking grapes, it's about playing a crucial role in the fascinating process of making wine.
It was on day three, which is universally known among vendangeurs as the worst day, the day when your body is yelling at you to stop but your mind somehow keeps you going, that I texted my friend Tyler, telling him of the back breaking work that I had gotten myself into and how I had just turned one of Noella's wine barrels into a geyser when I overfilled it with fresh pressed Chardonnay.
“Winemaking is HARD” he reassured me. He's right, but winemakers Noella Morantin and Laurent Saillard almost make it look easy, they take pleasure in the process and are happy to engage people to learn and get hands-on experience all along the way, sharing the principles of biodynamic farming and winemaking.
During my time in the Loire, Noella and Laurent went beyond all my expectations of kindness and patience (waiting for me to do a few extra jumps for joy or take photos before crushing grapes, riding a tractor, or destemming freshly harvested bunches) and I am forever grateful to them for that.
Just like your body breaks down and rebuilds itself under the strain of repetitive physical labor, making wine is a series of deconstructing and reconstructing in itself. Once picked, the grape changes forms and is finally transformed into a fermented juice that tells the story of everyone who has ever touched or tended to it.
Under the magical light of the Loir et Cher I met the inspiring and passionate people that will go into this year's bottles, people that I came to appreciate more and more with each passing sunrise and sunset. Laurent and Noella have found a corner of the world that is unrivaled in beauty, imbued with community, and incredibly hard to leave.
I came home from the Loire with so many memories, mostly of the things that we so easily forget. To look at the stars. The simple pleasure of making something. Learning from the people around you. Accepting humility and the power of not knowing. And above all else the importance of loving what you do.
The harvest this year may not have been perfect. There were some bad grapes among the bunches and the yield was less than it has been before. These things are taken in stride, with the knowledge that working with, and not against, nature brings both joys and challenges. Despite and because of these challenges, 2014 was a very good year.