Harvest is a stressful time for any winemaker. This year in champagne it is a little more stressful than usual. Despite the beautiful weather I am enjoying during my visit, in the weeks preceding my arrival it was cool and occasionally wet. Disease has now become an issue. It is threatening the quality of the grapes and there is a rush on to harvest the grapes before they are completely lost to disease. And then there is this Australian winemaker ringing up to arrange a visit to the cellars!
Fortunately for me I had made arrangements for visiting cellars well before I arrived in champagne. But still, to have an unfamiliar person, who doesn’t speak much French, spending the day in the cellar probably only adds to the mental stress of it all. However, the local vignerons have been unfailingly generous with their time and their wine. They have taken me on tours on the vineyard, allowed me to taste grapes in the vineyard, juice coming out of the press, juice from tanks, ferments and plenty of bottled cuvee to taste. They have made a big effort to communicate as much as possible in English, even though some are not very comfortable with the language. In return I have dug out a few press loads of grapes, turned up with pastries for morning tea or a bottle of wine for lunch.
The people – the greatest feature
I have a growing sense of attachment or endearment to the champagne region and its people. It is a beautiful landscape that produces some beautiful and unique wines. But its people are its greatest feature. They are polite, inviting, warm and generous. I am inspired to learn more of their language, to develop closer relations and to return the generosity should I ever get the opportunity.