My friend Nick thinks there’s something operatic about the costumed demonstrators and the elusive florist and he’s right of course. The Perpignan parade could well have been the Parpignol parade that opens Act II of La Boheme and flower girl = seamstress, why not? Let’s hope she can keep her hands warm without me and her health holds up.  It was unintentional but I guess spending 20 years in an opera house has a lasting effect that sometimes finds it’s way online because I’m the boss of this blog and there is no editor to reel me in. If you’ve been with me for a while, you already know that.

So, no need to worry. Our florist, who from now on shall be known as Mimi should be fine. It’s warm, it’s spring, there’s lunch on the terrace, fresh rosé to drink and the vines are budding. And that’s really what this post is about.

This journey began at the last harvest and we’ve now come to the beginning of the next. I’d love this vineyard year, nature’s cycle stuff if I hadn’t had so many birthdays but it is important here, as in any farming community, as you begin to understand how people are tied to the land. Obvious I know, but I’m a city kid and never really thought much about this before. And do I have to tell you again; I’m doing this without an editor (just like most newspapers nowadays.)

Budbreak is one of the milestones and it’s like OK, there’ll be wine again next year and we can gear up for the tourist season and a series of festivals: chocolate this month, wine and food in May, the Voix de Femmes music festival in June and outdoor art in July. There’s a pottery market early in August and then a deep breath until the harvest begins again.

There you have it. While you’re grappling with the idea that I just wrapped up an entire year in one paragraph, have a look at the budbreak photos. They’re pretty.

A click on the thumb brings a larger image.


Being Organic

Spent the day cleaning the house and studying French until about 3:30 when I had to get out for a walk. Took one of my favorite routes through the village, passing five wineries, then out the road to Cucugnan, which takes me past several vineyards and a farm housing a few donkeys. Take a left at the municipal swimming pool to a small road through more vineyards.

Photo of road
Near the Swimming Pool ©2011 Ron Scherl


I walked up to a vineyard owned by Marcel Buhler that I have been photographing periodically since I got here. It’s a beautiful place, alive, organic.


Vineyard Photo
Maury Vineyard ©2011 Ron Scherl

After shooting for a while, I walked on. The next plot was clearly not being farmed organically and the difference was striking: everything looked dead. The vines, of course are alive, just entering the dormant winter months, but there’s nothing else. The insecticides and herbicides used to prevent vine diseases have destroyed everything else.

Comparing 2 vineyards

Look at the vineyard on the left, all the vegetation is thriving; there are multiple kinds of grasses, weeds and moss. The place is teeming with insects, flying around and biting my neck. The vineyard is farmed organically adhering to many biodynamic principles and is certified organic by Ecocert.  Biodynamism holds that the vineyard is a complete environment and the insects, animals, weeds, grasses, soil, rocks and vines are all part of the environment and necessary for its health. It is a philosophy based on the writings of Rudolf Steiner and is much more in use in Europe than the United States.


There is a clear connection here to “terroir” a concept that goes beyond the soil to encompass the entire environment of the vineyard and includes the effects of the intervention of human animals as well. Today’s Holy Grail of winemaking is a wine that expresses the terroir or has a sense of place. Here in the Roussillon it is often expressed in minerality that should come from the extreme rockiness of the soil. David Darlington in his book: An Ideal Wine: One Generation’s Pursuit of Perfection quotes winemaker Randall Grahm “To put it simply, if your soils are alive, you get minerals from them.”


It‘s difficult to come to any conclusion other than those farmers not using organic methods are poisoning the soil they depend on for their livelihood. This is where the influx of new winemakers like Marcel can make a difference; a healthy interchange of ideas, learning from each other is exactly what Charles Chivilo, the mayor of Maury spoke about as one of the benefits of foreign investments in the vineyards. So the old residents can learn organic farming methods and perhaps teach the newcomers to hunt wild boar. Because for everyone, it always comes back to the land.


Photo of Woman Mending Fences
Mending Fences ©2011 Ron Scherl

Chasing Marie

Let me set the scene for you: about 7:30 AM, overcast sky, autumn chill in the air, steep hillside vineyard of old vine grenache noir between Maury and St. Paul.

Vineyard photo
Thunevin-Calvet: Harvest 2011 ©2011 Ron Scherl

Last night at dinner I had a lovely bottle of the 2007 Thunevin-Calvet “Les Dentelles”; this morning I’m photographing the 2011 harvest. Or, to be more precise, I’m chasing after Marie Calvet, trying to photograph her as she manages the crew, picks grapes, drives the truck and throws sticks for her dog, Boolah.


Photo of Marie Calvet
Marie Calvet ©2011 Ron Scherl

Marie and her husband, Jean-Roger run Thunevin-Calvet winery in partnership with Jean-Luc Thunevin. And Marie runs the harvest, really runs the harvest.

She has more energy than an oil company and no time to wait for the perfect photo. She’s a dynamo and it’s hard to photograph someone moving that fast in early morning light. Trudging up and sliding down the hill, bedecked with cameras and a bit of a hangover, I’m trying to keep up with her.

Photo of Marie Calvet
Marie Calvet ©2011 Ron Scherl


She has no mercy. I get to a vine and she’s finished. I focus and she ducks down for the low hanging fruit. I try to anticipate where she’ll go next and she’s off in a different direction. I turn to photograph another scene and she’s finished the row and moved down the hill. I’m getting better photos of the dog.

Finally, there’s a little rest for refreshment and I ask Marie to pose. She hates this and she can’t stand still, I get two shots and the break ends.


Photo of Marie Calvet
Marie Calvet ©2011 Ron Scherl

So we’re back at it and the sun and heat finally break through, sweatshirts come off, pants get rolled up but nothing slows down Marie. I’m starting to think I should photograph the rest of the crew and throw some sticks for the dog, but I really want something good of Marie at the harvest. I plan to follow the Calvets through the year, but the harvest is a special time and I really don’t have what I want yet. Keep pushing, if she can do it so can I. I’m encouraged when she walks past me, sighs and says “je suis fatigué”. Who knew?

Photo of Marie Calvet
Marie Calvet ©2011 Ron Scherl


Photo of Marie Calvet
Marie Calvet ©2011 Ron Scherl

Noon means lunch. I’m still not sure I have what I need but I know I’m done for the day. Marie tells me that they’ll be picking a beautiful vineyard up near Queribus next week and she’ll call and tell me when. I’ll be there.

I plan to invite Marie and Jean-Roger to dinner, but I’ll wait until after the harvest.

Saturday in the Vineyard with Georges

As you would expect, one contact leads to another, and so to Georges.
Photo of Georges Feuerstein
Georges Feuerstein ©2011 Ron Scherl

The first phone call was a masterpiece of miscommunication, speaking French is harder for me on the phone and Georges, who has spent all of his 79 years in Rasiguères, has that southern accent that seems to mix in a bit of Catalan and a dash of Occitan. It was a struggle, but we managed to agree on Saturday morning at 9:00 in front of the Mairie in Rasiguères.


The first thing Georges did was take me over to the coop to taste some of the local wines and, as always happens, when I taste I buy. He did, however, secure a 20% discount for me, which he was very happy to point out. Business accomplished, we went out to a small syrah vineyard where Georges introduced me to his son, grandson, granddaughter and the rest of the pickers. Turned out the grandson was on the Domaine Pertuisane crew I had photographed and he wanted to know if I had any good photos of his girlfriend who was also there.


In this method of harvesting, the pickers drop the grapes in buckets which are the dumped into la hotte, the plastic bin carried by one of the workers. When full, he dumps the load into a truck, which is unloaded directly into the crusher at the coop.


When the picking was finished for the day, Georges invited me back to his house for something to drink. He seemed pleased when I accepted a glass of sweet wine and we made our way as best we could through a conversation in which he explained how the wine had been stored in oak, giving it a characteristic brown color. When I told him I liked it very much, Georges went out to the garage, drew a bottle from the barrel and sent me on my way with a bonne journée.

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