Rhône Girl - Journal - First Day of Harvest 2021
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First Day of Harvest 2021

First Day of Harvest 2021 – Natacha Chave Aléofane Crozes-Hermitage AOP

Working yesterday was a delight. I am nervous to say so. I feel pained by the trauma of shitty experiences working the vineyards and I fear it has made me traumatised.

I have learnt not to judge people too early. Not to get swept up in the emotional chares of interactions with people on the first day, like a shiny toy it gets old eventually.

But it is in the little things which I have already witnessed I am hopeful it is different.

I didn’t feel nervous on my first day turning up the Natacha Chave Aléofane Crozes-Hermitage AOP winery. This is the second year I have felt like this. I think it had to be acknowledged. I have been working for two years with female bosses.

I noticed the care. Natacha walking me around the back of her winery to show me where I could put my belongings. Apologising for the stress yesterday when she was pressing me for my bank payment details. She directed everyone personally to cars, where we would set off to the vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage AOP to pick grapes. It felt civilised going in cars, unlike vineyard seasons before when we were thrown together in vans like ‘les petits lapins’. In the car, I started talking to the girl I was sitting next to. She was wearing these beautiful long lemon overalls ‘salopette’ and a pansy flowered t-shirt, later she would whip out a matching bucket hat.

We started chatting, she has been working in Burgundy, she is heading to university in Dijon for wine. She tells me her experience in Orange was hard. She tells me Natacha had already spoken of me to her. Natacha made several comments during the day about other staff members who will join the team later this week, one from Germany. It seems she has an open mind to a diverse group of people. The wife of the winemaker at Colombo is in the team. Two people from Valence, who normally work the vineyards of Domaine de Colombier and Christian who is Dutch but has just spent part of Covid working at Rolf Binder of Barossa Valley, Australia. How have I not seen him around Tain L’Hermitage all this time? I look forward to the time when I can articulate everyone’s name with easy.

She tells me she has been working in Burgundy for a particular producer Domaine Chantal Lescure. I made sure to get out and see the full moon in the early hours of this morning.  I am not sure if I will be here in France to see the next. Tomorrow, a new season, the pass of the equinox and a new start represent many things to me right now.  

We start talking about life as a female amongst the vines. I don’t feel scared to speak in French. The training over the last few months working the vineyards and just speaking French has been good preparation. I also feel calm amongst this group of people, it isn’t intimidating and thus I feel happy to work at a steady pace, talk and continue working in French, finally, I can do both at the same time. I don’t feel stiff to make mistakes. I felt the same at Maison Delas last year and don’t think it is by coincidence. It is how I have felt in largely female-only teams.  

She talked to me about Burgundy and Rhône, saying Burgundy is flat, she said it is hard if you are from the Rhône to experience a sense of awe when you find yourself in other wine regions of France, this makes sense to me. I told her about my desire to study here, not in Australia, linked to wine anyway. She tells me ‘well you can try, I like the positivity she brings. She isn’t complaining, saying things are too hard. This is the energy I also find with Natacha, she is positive. In a year, which truly has been difficult for vignerons across France, she still circles the team with care, speaking to each of the people she is driving to the vineyard, making comments and jokes about the season.  I just love much of the time when we are working the vines Natacha and her niece Daphne Chave, the daughter of vigneron Yaan Chaveare talking about restaurants and the quality of food in the region.

We get a break of 1.5 hours for lunch. It allows some people to go home, prepare their lunch, make a coffee and come back. It felt like a very balanced amount of time, we worked just more than one full row this morning and then we repeated the same in the afternoon. There are fourteen rows to complete in this parcel of Crozes-Hermitage AOP, Natacha said it was all picked with the same number of people last year in six hours. This year we finished about 9 rows in 8 hours. We’ll get back out there today to finish the rest.

At lunch, people came over to ask me if I wanted to sit with them. There is this weathered old man, who had helped me put my bike in the shed this morning, who eats his baguette alone and directs me to the toilet. I felt I sat between him and the convivial youth, I didn’t want him to feel alone but I felt he was content. I had seen him in a marvellous photo from the Australian importer describing Natacha’s Domaine, he works every harvest season. By the end of the day, he asked me how my back was, I found it hard to understand him at times, muffled between his lips, which didn’t move much and potentially a smile mostly just of gums.

We drank Natacha Chave’s 2019 Crozes white for lunch. It has been near impossible to find this around, so I really treasured the whole experience. And the beautiful weathered man, road his purple chrome bike home at the end of the day.