I didn’t feel very well yesterday: woke up early but tired. It felt like a hangover but I hadn’t been drinking at all the night before. It was cool and overcast, a touch of autumn. I dressed in sweats and a t-shirt from the 2014 World Series. Had a bit of breakfast and it upset my stomach. A twenty-minute meditation was just a jumble of random thoughts and unexplained anxiety. Went back to bed with a Donna Leon book. Read, dozed a bit, didn’t have enough energy to keep the day from slipping away.
A chicken soup lunch didn’t help, tried to work but couldn’t find the words, back to Brunetti. It began to get dark and I knew what was coming. I poured a glass of rosé to try to keep summer alive but it was too late. 7:15, the first batter singles, the double play ball is mishandled, only one run but way too many pitches. Kershaw breezes through the first and the air grows heavy. They cremated Yogi’s body and now it’s really over.
Went for a walk this afternoon and met a man who was fishing in the swimming pool. Well, not exactly; he was downstream of the pool, fishing in the water that runs through the pool and into the town’s garden irrigation system, but the amazing thing to me is he was catching fish, small, but plentiful. The pool is drained for the winter, but the stream still runs through it, so I went up to get a closer look and couldn’t see any fish. I still don’t know where they were coming from but they liked his worms.
His gear was a bamboo pole about 10 feet long and about 8 feet of fishing line, just enough for him to lean over the edge and get a worm in front of these little guys. I think they were baby catfish but when I asked, he mumbled something I couldn’t understand, in fact the rushing water, my hearing and his reticence made conversation very difficult. I had never met him before; I believe his name is Lafage but wouldn’t swear to it. I asked if his family were the winemakers Lafage, but never really got the answer. In any case, Lafage is a common name around here, so we’ll go with that, figuring he must be related to someone who makes wine. I spent about 15 minutes with him in which time he bagged about 8-10 little fish that would make a nice lunch.
I walked on and had the vineyards pretty much to myself: harvest is over and the vineyard workers have moved on. Pruning won’t begin until after the leaves fall, so the winemakers are on vacation or getting reacquainted with their families.
This is the beginning of the quiet time around here, life moving indoors, wood smoke in the air, overcast skies and heavy sweaters. The wind this week is from the east, warmer but wetter, but it will change and I’ll need to add the down vest to the heavy sweater. Everyone says last year was unusually cold but I’m willing to bet they’ll say that again next year. Weather is just getting more extreme, ask a New Yorker.
I’m thinking of making a change: a move to Perpignan. I like the city and I’ve always been a city kid at heart, never quite comfortable without the feel of concrete beneath my feet. So I’m looking to rent an apartment right in the heart of town, close to the Place de la République which has a daily food market and a lively café scene.
It’s the end of baseball season, a Paul Simon song, a seasonal affliction for sure, winter coming, end of the year, plants go dormant and people die. Less daylight means that life will move indoors and artificial light does not provide the same energy.
Photographing the harvest and subsequent processing of the fruit, I was struck by how much production remains handwork. The grapes are primarily picked by hand; only a few relatively flat, trellised vineyards can be picked by machine and that procedure is mostly shunned by the region’s better winemakers. The selection process; weeding out fruit that is under ripe or overly dried out is done first cluster by cluster, then again, berry by berry. Equipment is disassembled, washed and reassembled every day. Fermentation tanks have to be emptied and the only way to do it, even in the most high tech of wineries, is for someone to jump in and shovel it out.
Hand crafting fine wines is a very personal endeavor. Sure there is some repeatable science, the sugar content of grapes will determine the percentage of alcohol in the wine if certain procedures are followed. Many parts of this can be predicted, but the really interesting element is in human taste and philosophy and the decisions that are made as a result. Certainly winemakers test the chemistry throughout the process, but they also taste, from grapes on the vines to wine in the barrel and decisions are made as a result of both processes, decisions that will hopefully produce the wine envisioned at the beginning. It’s a gloriously human, incredibly imprecise process and that’s where the fascination lies for me. And it’s why I’ll be focusing on the people who make the wine, crafting portraits in words and photos that I hope will express the personalities of a diverse group of individuals who have chosen to make wine here in Maury.
For the winemaker, processing the last fruit ends the most intense period of labor and that will mean the same for me: wine resting in barrels is not a great photo op. Time to write more, study French, and prepare for several key portraits and interviews while still periodically photographing the vines through the seasons. This is the first milestone in the project. There will be more.