School’s. Out. For. Summer! It’s brilliant to have all the assignments behind us now. (Actually, all but one. A surprise take-home exam snuck its way onto the roster juuuuust before the last day of school. But, mentally and certainly geographically as much as one can say that, the semester is over, and that’s what’s important.) We have put a lid on the technical audit that has consumed our time for the last two months, culminating in our final presentations.

The fruits of our labour! A lot of work analysing the domaine, including the age of the vines (these ones were just planted), the soil, and the vigour (like how fast they start budding). Excel spreadsheets galore. Some moments of insight! And finally one of the presentations.

The fruits of our labour: a lot of work analyzing the vineyard, including the age of the vines (these ones were just planted), the soil, and the vigour (like how fast they start budding). Spreadsheets galore. Some moments of insight! And we’re finally ready to present.

Although it feels like all we’ve been doing is the audit, there’s actually a class or two in there as well. The focus of the final week of class is vinification, or how to make wine. (What have we been doing this whole time, you ask? 🙂 ) Interestingly enough, a phrase we hear often is that 80% of the work is in the vineyard, and only 20% is what you do with the grapes after the harvest, during their conversion into wine. Hence the emphasis on the viticultural aspects. We’ve already studied how to make red and white wines, and now we’re learning how to make rosé and sparkling wines. The lesson includes the theoretical application, a sensory application (mmm… tasty) and a practical application, which has us off to visit Ballarin, a Crémante house in Bordeaux.

How to make Champagne in your (Blair Witch) basement:

How to make Champagne in your (Blair Witch) basement: Step 1: After your wine is finished fermenting, put more sugar and yeast in, flip it upside-down. then leave it somewhere to age. Step 2: Age for a long time…I’ve already called dibs on these bottles. Step 3: Shake it like a polaroid picture! This machine shakes, or ‘riddles’ entire pallets of upside-down bottles gently so the spent yeast cells settle into the neck of the bottle. Step 4: Keep aging, preferably in old moist mold-covered caves. Moist. Yup, I said it. Step 5. See if the yeast cells (or ‘lees’) are collecting properly in the neck of the bottle, then run them through a freezing ice bath, so that… Step 6. When you pop the bottles open, only the cap and the frozen sludge of the lees comes out. Step 7: If you like it then you better put a cork in it! Step 8: Put the wire cap on top so the cork doesn’t come out by accident. Step 9: Put a fancy neck label on and… voilà! (Also, I lied.. you can’t make Champagne unless you are in Champagne, France, so it’s just sparkling wine, or in this case, Crémante de Bordeaux.)

You don't need a genie to enter this cave of wonders, where cheese and wine grow (m)old together.

You don’t need a genie to enter this cave of wonders at Baud et Millet, where cheese and wine grow (m)old together.

There’s something else to wrap up, and that’s the Bordeaux Alumni program. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my parrain, and we have one more official mentoring meal together at Baud et Millet, during which he counsels me to eat a bellyful of cheese. (All of which I highly recommend, by the way. When in Rome, and all that….)  We’ve had a great time (probably somewhat due to all the wine tasting we did together), and we promise to stay in touch over the summer, and regroup with a family meal in the fall.

The official closing ceremonies are hosted at our school’s château, Luchey Halde. As this program is only open to international Masters and phD students in Bordeaux, it is a small enough group (65 or so) that the students from each school are recognized and then we celebrate with an Iron Chef-style food tasting: French fare versus cuisine from each of the international students’ home countries. (Does anyone really lose in this situation?)

The Closing Ceremonies of the 2016 Bordeaux Alumni program is being hosted by our very own Château Luchey-Halde, although the vines may be stealing the spotlight here... The school's director shares a few words before we receive our certificates. My contribution to the international dishes is maple candied bacon.

The Closing Ceremonies of the 2016 Bordeaux Alumni program is being hosted by our very own Château Luchey-Halde, although the vines may be stealing the spotlight here… Our school’s director shares a few words before we receive our certificates. My contribution to the international dishes is maple candied bacon, which seems to disappear rather quickly.

So, to recap: audit done; I know how to make wine now; mentorship wrapped up for the moment. What’s left? Packing and checking in on my tiny ascientific experiment on the vines in front of school. There’s something called apical dominance which just means that the top/main stem of the vine grows more strongly than the other canes. But once the dominant stem is cut, that hold releases, and the plant’s energy rushes to the rest of the canes on the same vine. There’s one really tall cane I have had my eye on, since a few weeks ago, and I lop the top off to see what will happen.

Tiny grape bunches, and the aforementioned dominant tip, which receives amputation. A few weeks later, the grape bunches have developed, and the one main stem has turned into four!

Tiny grape bunches, and the aforementioned dominant tip, which receives amputation by Nurse Taylor. A mere two weeks later, the grape bunches have elongated, and three new tall stems have now joined the original one. It works!

And with that done, I guess I’m ready to bid farewell to Bordeaux, for the moment. It’s a crazy time to be leaving, actually. Bordeaux’s Cité du Vin is finally opening after three years of building. It’s a museum/interactive exhibition of wines from all over the world, dedicated to the universal, living heritage of wine (I stole that line from the Bdx tourism website, but I think it’s a good descriptor). Plus the architecture and design are magnificent. The other magnificent thing appearing in Bordeaux this month is the Euro Cup. As one of the host cities, Bordeaux is getting ready to welcome the world (well, the continent, at least) and prepping (the drinks) for the first game on June 11 between Wales and Slovakia. So much stuff! So many people descending on Bordeaux! Actually, maybe it’s a good thing I’m getting out before the hordes descend for the summer.

Newly minted Cité du Vin on the bank of the Garonne.

The freshly minted Cité du Vin sparkles on the bank of the Garonne.

There was a tiny part of me that wondered if I would even make it to Alsace this weekend, in the wake of some very active striking that’s going on in France due to the new labour laws. The air controller strike is cancelled at the last minute, clearing my flight to take off. I’ve only just arrived in Turckheim, but my first impressions are pretty distinct: vines, mountains and rain, each in great quantity. My roommate arrives tomorrow, and we will be starting our internship at 7am, bright and early Monday morning. (Well, maybe dark, wet and early Monday morning.  We’ll see.) Wish us luck!

This little town of less than 4,000 sits on a tiny river. Cobblestone streets lead to the old town. Ominous rainclouds are everywhere, but this ladybug and these poppies are evidence that these vines are are likely pesticide free.

This little town of less than 4,000 sits on a tiny river. Cobblestone streets lead to the old town of Turckheim. Ominous rainclouds are everywhere, but this ladybug and these poppies are evidence that the surrounding vines are are likely chemical free.

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