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Wine Girl, Part 4: Southern France Adventures

Wine Girl, Part 4: Southern France Adventures
My fourth vintage was undoubtedly my most challenging and most life changing; Flying Winemaking in the south of France.
A decade ago, around the time of this adventure, there was quite a phenomenon of Flying Winemakers in Europe. This quaint
phrase describes the placing of New World Winemakers into Old World wineries to improve the standards of the wines produced (not that anyone is insinuating that European winemakers are bad!). Many of these Flying Winemakers worked up to 3 harvests per year and were earning a very good living in the process of travelling the world. It is rare to find flying winemakers today as companies have cut head counts and salaries and so I feel privileged to have been part of this exclusive club.
I was placed by the company Jacques Lurton, based in Bordeaux, to oversee the winemaking in 5 wineries in Le Gers and Le Tarn in the southern Languedoc of France. I was working in a team with another winemaker who was French
In our Peugeot 206 we would drive daily between our wineries to taste, write workinstructions and oversee fruit intake……that was until my Gallic friend got fired halfway through vintage.
Then I was on my own. And where the fun started. I
had taken some artistic licence in describing my French and winemaking ability on my application form. On both levels I was completely out of my depth really. It tunred into a baptism of fire!
Take one day in Le Tarn for example. I was visiting one of my wineries as we were expecting some Semillon grapes to arrive. The winery was a complete mess and very disorganised. Furthermore I had been asked to produce a particular style of Semillon and so could not leave it up to the winery to get it done, I had to stay and make it happen myself. Totally unprepared, no food and no warm clothing, I sat next to my presses as the night progressed, tasting and making sure the quality of the juice was suitable. I was so cold that I had to sit the winery dog on my lap to keep warm and drank half a litre of still fermenting wine for the added alcoholic warmth.
Twenty four hours later I drove back to my base and am amazed that I stayed on the road…..especially since it was hunting season and there were wild boars running all over the road.
Further adventures could fill a book, including driving to Bordeaux at 4 in the
morning and catapulting over an unknown round-about in the dark, getting lost in a forest on the way to Narbonne, running head first into a concrete
staircase in a hurry to pull a log of wood out of the crusher and wading waist
high in juice that had spilled out of a broken tank onto the floor
Furthermore, I personally found these wineries were so filthy and backwards that quality wine production was nearly impossible. But it was a phenomenal adventure and one that forced me to learn quickly. It also helped my French enormously and people still comment that I sound like a “southerner” when I speak French to this day.
I just can’t quite shake the accent.
It is a shame that young winemakers don’t have the chance to work as true FlyingWinemakers anymore. But I am so lucky to have had the chance even if it didn’t feel so fantastic at the time. It was more like winemaking “survivor” style.
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4 May 2011
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