Picking Grapes: No Stomping Allowed

Bucket of Grapes Oct

Hello friends! This is the goal, just so you know. Fill your bucket with grapes, again, and again, and again, until the boss says it’s time to go home.

Once again, telling people you’re doing research for a novel you’re writing opens a plethora of doors. When we met Pierre Thomann last spring, and he gave us the private tour of his chapel, I was elated. Then, I discovered a Pinot Gris Grand Cru among his cadre of wines that tasted like the nectar of the gods. He began explaining about growing grapes and the whole wine making process once I told him I needed to know for my story. I decided to be brave and ask if it would be possible, when we returned in the fall, to pick grapes in his vineyards. HE SAID YES!

Me & Girls Oct

(My grape-harvesting buddies.)

So here we are picking grapes the last week of harvest. This was the day to pick Gewurztraminier Grand Cru grapes. (Say that 5 times really fast.) Jim and I met Pierre and his wife, Titia, at their home/shop in Kaysersberg and drove up into the vineyards. We were paired up with someone to pick along side. I scored and got Titia. Maybe she thought I would need more help. After a very quick lesson in what was good enough to pick and what was not, we began.

Me picking grapes Oct

(Me in my new French headband.)

This is not a job for the faint of back. It was a beautiful sunny day. There we were in a vineyard, with a French vineyard owner, and his family, and his workers picking grapes. And they were all speaking French and laughing, and it was like we were in a movie. A very lovely movie. Someone came along fairly often checking our bucket and replacing it when it was full.  The buckets were then taken to a large bin on a trailer. The owner and his son would take each grape one by one, inspect them, and drop only the perfect ones into the bin. This, among many other things, makes a grape good enough to be a Grand Cru.

Me & Jim Oct

Jim and I picked enough grapes between us in one afternoon to make 200+ bottles of wine. Not bad for a couple of newbies. We did all take a break mid-pick. At which point all the smart phones came out of pockets and lots of photos were taken with the crazy American writer and her husband, who volunteered to pick grapes for free for the purpose of research. So what I thought was romantic and such an adventure, was for them life as they know it. And this is why I write fiction. Taking people who believe they are living ordinary lives and making them appear fantastic, romantic, legendary.

Me & Pierre at his shop

(Me and Pierre in his wine shop.)

After picking grapes, we went to visit Pierre again and bought some of my favorite wine. He then took us on a tour of the inner courtyard, where the chapel sits. He explained that his family has been in the wine business since 1525. They started as wine barrel makers and obtained vineyards by 1600. This business has passed from father to son since 1525! His great grandparents married and joined vineyards. His great grandmother was a Saltzman (good French name), thus the business name Saltzman-Thomann. Pierre’s grandmother was niece of the Abbess of the Abbey of Alspach, here in Alsace. (How about that for a lovely alliteration.)  Because of said grandmother, their family inherited this property in the 1700s, with the chapel and the building that was the original Abbey, built in the 1300s.

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(The staff of the Abbess of Alspach from 1700s. It is displayed on the wall in the chapel.)

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(The former Abbey, later it was a hospital, now a residence.)

The Abbey had an extensive wine cellar and vineyards. It was built around 1440. Across from the Abbey in the courtyard is a doorway that used to lead to the bakery for the Abbey. There is a date of 1580 and the symbol for bakery above the door. Attached to the chapel is the butcher. The sign above its doorway has a date of 1739. As you can see, the Abbey was self-contained. Of course, many people in the valley worked the Abbey lands and paid with their harvests. Tithes were high.

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(Door to ancient bakery. 1580)

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(Door to butcher. 1739)

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(Date and symbol above doorway of butcher shop.)

Finally, Pierre took us into the cellar of the ancient abbey. The original wooden wine barrels are still there. They no longer use these as of several years ago when they changed to stainless steel tanks. When it was time to clean the interior of these barrels. Someone, (Pierre was the one to do this most often.) had to climb inside through an opening 10″ high by 15-18″ wide. He told us he had to raise his hands over his head and put them together like he was diving and go into the barrel, twisting his body as he went. WHAT? I was claustrophobic just listening to him tell about it! Anyway, now they are taking apart the barrels and labeling them piece by piece so they can put them back together somewhere outside the cellar. Pierre also said that during WWII many of the neighbors would come into this cellar along with his family to hide during air raids. We stood in the cellar for a few moments quietly, and I tried to imagine the fear they must have felt. The parents trying to console their children as the sound of war raged outside. Thankfully, only a few houses where destroyed in this small village during the war. The village down the road was not so fortunate. It was leveled. Not a house left standing. Tragic.

Me & Pierre in wine cellar

 

(Pierre and me in front of a wine barrel.)

So there you have it. Just a few snippets from our wine picking adventure last fall. I hope you enjoyed your time with us and will take a moment to feel the stickiness of the grape juice on your fingers. Now breathe in deeply as you raise your hands to your face. Ahh. The sweet smell of the nectar of the gods.

I will end our day’s journey with a few pictures of the vineyards once the harvest has ended. It’s late October and soon the leaves will fall from the vines, and they will sleep through the long winter ahead. Until next time. Bonjour.

Chateau late Oct

Oct

Late Oct

 

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