Around here, the start of harvest is like opening day of the baseball season, full of anticipation and uncertainty.
Is all the fruit truly ripe? Are the rookies ready?
Will the old vines continue to produce? Do the veterans have another year in them?
Will this year’s pickers work hard and well? Will the free agents produce?
Yesterday, I went out with Marcel and Carrie and the crew from Domaine des Enfants who were picking the first whites of the season: Muscat, Grenache Gris and Blanc, Maccabeu. Not all the fruit is ripe, but sample testing had shown some vines that were pruned early were ready to go.
Marcel and Carrie feed me often and keep me in wine; in exchange, I wanted to update their photo library. My pix from five years ago were ready for retirement. I also needed to see if I still had the legs to scramble up and down a steep hillside vineyard, kind of like tracking down a liner in the gap. Not bad. I may have lost a step but I was able to keep up with the kids. My average wasn’t great but it’s early and I did manage a few hits.
Back at the cave, a little cathartic foot stomping before refrigeration and pressing, followed by a sausage grillade lunch, which I followed with a nap.
Just because I’ve returned to San Francisco doesn’t mean I’m divorced from France, it’s more a trial separation. A conversation with the Walkers trying to answer the question “what is a novel?” brought up a number of issues about how we fictionalize our lives. Selective memory enables us to rewrite the past and, in the present, we choose what to see and retain, especially when we travel, much as we choose what to include in the frame when we make a photo. So we’re always making stories and a novel is just one way of telling stories, something humans have been doing for a very long time.
J’adore la France, but it’s not easy to explain: I’ll always be a foreigner there and the French do not welcome strangers easily, yet I’m pretty comfortable and could probably live there, although not in a small rural village. I’m too much a city kid.
There’s still lots of Maury in my life: making prints for Tom and Susan, writing about Marcel and Carrie for Helen Tate’s company:
followed by a short Facebook conversation with Jean-Roger and Marie.
And there’s fiction too, but that’s not ready for prime time.
San Francisco is home and I’m happy to be here – although I might reconsider if the Giants don’t start playing better – but I miss the friends I made there and I’ll go back.
In the interest of fair play for California wine I stopped off at Tank 18, an urban winery and a new venue for Ann Walker Catering. It’s a nice industrial space South of Market with about six wines purchased and bottled under their own label.
Mary Ann did some business, Larry and I tasted and then I played with the iPhone’s panorama software and discussed mounting an exhibition here.
Just returned from five days in Spain with Barbara doing what we do best, eating and drinking. Having not seen each other for 15 months, it took us all of about 15 seconds to fall back into our normal patterns and habits; all the history revives the common references without even trying. Change would have been much more difficult.
Barbara flew into Barcelona and after a stop at the Boqueria to stock the kitchen we came up to Maury for Barbara to meet friends and recover from jet lag. Off to Leucate for oysters, then packed the Twingo and headed down the coast, lunch at Sitges then on to Tarragona for warm sunshine, café sitting and tapas.
A couple of diversions along the way to Valencia gave us a great lunch at a restaurant in Gandesa that looked like the dining room of a Holiday Inn in 1970 (I’ll leave it to Barbara to add a comment on her pigs feet carpaccio). Then a little way down the road we found ourselves on a tiny car ferry crossing the Ebro River to get to Miravet and its famous castle, which was closed for lunch. The ferry was a treat though, just a steel platform mounted on two small motor boats.
Valencia is a lovely city and we took a few long walks, dined on paella and went sightseeing at the Central Market, actually Barbara insisted on breaking the pattern and actually going to a museum that wasn’t even about food or wine, but we did get to see some of the portraits of Joaquin Sorolla, who paints the most astonishing eyes. It wasn’t long before we restored our balance with a couple of glasses of Cava in a nice bar at the beach.
Another morning at the market before heading back to Barcelona for the last night. Banys-Orientales is a nice hotel in the Gothic Quarter, which is being revived and renewed with artist studios, boutiques, trendy bars and the most amazing – and probably the most expensive – grocery store, wine bar in town. Order a glass of wine and wander over to the cheese and ham section, have another and you may not even notice the prices. A tapas dinner in the Eixample district and we were done.
Barbara flew back the next morning and I returned to Maury and an invitation to the end of harvest party at Domaine des Enfants: wine from Marcel, sushi from Pascal his intern, guacamole from Carrie, and wild boar from Taieb the hunter, quite a menu. The Tramontane was blowing, the temperature was dropping into the 30s but the crowd was warm, the food was great and someone kept filling the photographer’s glass.
Spent a day on the bottling line at Domaine des Enfants this week and decided to go back to being a photographer.
If you’ve ever thought “I’m going to go off and buy some vineyards and make wine”, try a day of bottling first. It’s a sure-fire cure for romantic fantasy disease.
But sometimes friendship wins out and Marcel thought he needed another pair of hands so I volunteered.
Today’s Starting Lineup
brought to you by Domaine des Enfants:
“When the kids get you down, reach for another bottle.”
Sabrina and Delphine Boxes
Marcel and Carrie Filling Boxes
“I started out on burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff”, B. Dylan, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, actually I started on capsules which sounds like a drug confession but isn’t. After the bottles are filled and corked by machine, a capsule is placed over the top before moving on for sealing. Sounds simple, here are the details: the capsules are a very thin plastic that is easily crushed. Once crushed, they are useless, and they come nested in a row of about 50 and tend to stick together out of the box. It takes a gentle hand to separate them without crushing and the meat on the ends of my arms is not the perfect instrument. Now the bottles are moving by at a rate that’s approximately twice as fast as I’d like to see, I can keep up until I reach the end of a stack when the crinkles in the last few and the motion of picking up a new stack and loosening them gets me behind. I’m thinking soon I’ll get into the rhythm of this, it will become automatic, a meditative experience. Didn’t happen. Marcel decides I’d be better suited to another task and sends me off to help Sabrina make boxes, replacing me with Delphine.
Sabrina assigned me to check off the varietal on the outside of the carton and write “10” next to it to signify the vintage. There’s no reason to think of this as a demotion, I prefer to think that Sabrina was falling a bit behind and Marcel, knowing of my literary skills thought I’d be perfect for the job. But Sabrina, being the trusted employee she is, was way ahead and wondering what I was doing there. So after checking the right box and writing 10 about 100 times, without error I might add, I was sent back to capsules to back up Delphine.
Now Delphine was clearly faster than I was – she has smaller fingers – but every once in a while she’d miss one and I was there to pick her up– when suddenly our eyes met over the rhythmic motion of the bottling line and we knew – sorry, that’s a different book.
After lunch I had even less to do because the guy from the bottling service decided he liked standing next to Delphine and placing a capsule every now and then.
When we reached the café, I asked Marcel if he needed me tomorrow. He apologized, said he really didn’t, and bought me another drink. Seemed fair to me.