Les Amorioles

This is a great event. It’s known as a balade and consists of a walk of about three miles through the vineyards on a beautiful spring day when the vines are green and the fruit is forming, the fields in between are a riot of wildflowers, and the temperature is 75-80o. Along the way, you’ll stop at six stations, each has one course in a complete meal designed to complement the wines of the terroir available to taste from the 26 participating wineries. The winemakers are there to answer questions and there are several guides on the trail to provide information on grape varietals, soil composition and geological history of the region. The dessert stage is at a plaza in town where a fine jazz combo plays standards in a mellow ending to the day.

The event is sponsored by the winemakers with support from regional council tourism funds. It’s great PR and it sells wine. At the last stop you can buy any of the featured wines and they seemed to be selling well. This is hands-on and local, and when a wine sells out the winemaker rushes back to his cave to get more.

It’s fun, educational, delicious; totally without pretension and you get some exercise too. It’s hard to imagine feeling better about spending a day eating and drinking.

But I was working. I’d been invited to participate, knew to bring my cameras along and for me it was an assignment. I knew there was no money in this but I coveted the t-shirt. I also knew there would be material for my book and blog and an opportunity to meet many winemakers I didn’t already know. So I took it seriously and went to work and for me that means I didn’t eat and didn’t taste (mostly). I know, I know, men are not very good at multi-tasking, but that’s the way I have to work. I don’t make good photos when I’m on vacation or tasting wine.

So when I finished the walk and met up with the leaders, the first thing they asked was “Did I enjoy the food?” I said I didn’t eat. No food, no wine tasting. I said there was too much work I wanted to do. Bernard responded: “There is work and there is life, you must have both.” I love the French, they really talk like this.

Pierrette asked me to stay for the grillade but I was done. I had a shower, some wine, cheese and ibuprophen and went to bed.


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

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.

Click the thumbnail to see a larger image.



Quiet Period

I haven’t written recently but I have been busy. I managed to open a bank account although I’m not allowed to have checks because I don’t have a salary. I can, however have a debit card so that should suffice. I bought a car – 1997 Renault Twingo – insured it and even, in a clear victory over the forces of bureaucracy, managed to register it.

So now it’s time to get to work, starting with evening walks in the vineyards. I wanted to revisit sites I had photographed in January just to set the scene and because I think the land and a connection to it is a key element of this story.

This is Marcel Buhler’s vineyard in January, looking like an open-air witches’ graveyard:

Vines in winter
Grenache Vines in Winter: ©2011 Ron Scherl

And this is the same vineyard today:

vineyard in August
Grenache on the Vine ©2011 Ron Scherl

Sorry, took a short break there to get a glass of wine.

These are Marcel’s vineyards and he is one of the people who represents the changes going on here, in wine and, as a result, in the society as a whole. He is Swiss and came here to make wine. Why are people coming here to make wine and what results from that? Why here and now? There’s a glut of wine, who needs more? What happens to the economy of a rural village? How does it affect the society beyond those involved in wine? And what creates the passion? Because this is backbreaking work and the rewards are uncertain.

Here’s Marcel pruning in January:

Marcel Buhler pruning the vines in his vineyard in Maury
Marcel Buhler pruning vines: ©2011 Ron Scherl

OK, I’m going to try to answer these questions by talking to Marcel and others, some new to the area, some who have always been here. I’m going to try to capture portraits of the people and the village in photos and words, but keep an eye on the land. It’s old and tough and difficult to work. It’s beauty is hard, not seductive like a Caribbean beach or a Hawaiian sunset, but it’s always part of the picture.

Getting it Together

Everything began in January. Alone in Maury, photographing winter vineyards and vignerons, learning to prune the vines, tasting from barrel, visiting large and small wineries, I decided to do a book. It would be mostly photographs, but some text was needed. It would speak of global changes while focusing on the region around Maury. Wine would be central to the book as it is to the region, but it would symbolize other industries in other places. It may be published as an e-book or in print, but it would start as a blog.

It’s exciting and intimidating, involving leaving a job, changing a long standing relationship, leaving a home, the big three of peace of mind. There aren’t many times in life that we’re faced with a truly life changing decision and the older we get, the fewer such opportunities arise and the harder it becomes to take advantage of them. The only reasonable answer was: “if not now, when?”

And now I make lists, on paper, on the phone, tablet and computer, and in my head at night when I’d rather be sleeping.Photo of lists

The French visa process is not designed to make you feel welcome. There are lists of documents, some to be notarized, all to be copied and presented in the prescribed order. There are security guards and plexiglass boundaries, pictures to be taken (do not smile) and color coded chairs to be occupied. I know unemployment is a problem and no I will not look for a job. Yes I have enough money, a place to live and health insurance. I will not be a drain on scarce and fraying resources. No matter how precise I thought I was, there was something not quite up to their standards and a small delay is the penalty. And when I return I also need to bring my itinerary.

So, it’s time to pick the date and buy the ticket. August 15 becomes the date and the deadline. Revise the lists with the time frame set.

So today I went to a packing and shipping service to get some estimates on getting my stuff to Maury. I found a helpful guy who couldn’t resist asking: “Are you moving there? Wow man, that’s my dream too, I just don’t have it together yet.”