return of the prodigal daughter

I don’t know when the culture of France became normal and the Canadian culture became foreign, but it must have happened gradually some time in the last two years, and it’s hitting me hard on the return home. For example… when going to class or work, in France one typically greets everyone in the room with a kiss on each cheek or a handshake (unless one is late in which case it is awkward. Speaking for a friend). Even at a social gathering where there may be people one has not met before, a girl still does the kisses as if they were new bosom buddies. I’d forgotten that this is not necessarily normal in Canada. Here, if you happen to make eye contact or cross each other’s path, then a Good Morning greeting is in order, but there is no physical contact (absolutely none!), and one is rarely searched out to be bid a morning greeting. This was normal life for me only two years ago, and upon my return, it feels cold.

Early forays into French social scenes took some getting used to, but the return to Canada is a tad… cold…

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when autumn leaves start to fall

Harvesting the Pinot Gris from the steep slopes of Rangen calls for smaller baskets.

Harvesting Pinot Gris from the steep slopes of Rangen calls for smaller baskets.

It’s been six weeks since my last post, as I’ve been preoccupied with the busy harvest days, and the lead-up to the end of my stage (and therefore my return to Bordeaux). The days pass by in a blur. There’s a rhythm to this faster pace particularly around the end of September, although it is punctuated by slow days when we’re not harvesting due to unreadiness of certain grapes and parcels.

In broad, broad terms, the harvest begins with the grapes in the Pinot family: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois, and even Pinot Noir, the only red grape we have. This is followed by the Muscat, Chardonnay and Riesling, and Gewurztraminer tends to be the last to be ready. I emphasize broad terms because many factors can impact the decision to harvest each varietal: the geography – the plains tend to be harvested before the slopes (the generic wines before the Grand Cru wines), and the soil – the granite tends to ripen earlier, and the volcanic rock later. Additionally, the type of wine desired also impacts the timing decision: grapes for drier wines will come in before grapes for sweeter wines, like the Late Harvest planned for some of our Pinot Gris. Read More

(ve)raison d’être

The yellow star is where I live and (mostly) work. This domaine has vineyard parcels as far north as Hunawihr and as far south as Thann, all in the Haut-Rhin.

I started sending postcards to my wee nephew the summer I walked the camino, ostensibly in an effort to augment his 5 year old view on culture and geography, but in reality because I was going to miss our bi-weekly skype sessions, and was terrified he would forget who I was. The postcards have now expanded to include my nearly-4-year-old niece, while I wrack my brain to write a) neatly and b) topically, or at least simply enough that they have an idea of what’s going on, on this side of the ocean. I am under strict instructions to send postcards with maps, by all parties involved, as it seems to be a fun pastime to try and identify where-in-the-world-is-Aunt Cat. With that in mind, I’m going to do the same thing for you, as I haven’t really written about the region of Alsace since the introduction to my stage search, and my February visit.

Frankly, it’s a little intimidating to write about this wine region as there are so many different terroirs (13, officially), a big range of grape varietals (4 white grapes – and a 5th exceptionally – and 1 red are considered Grand Cru worthy, although other white grapes are permitted), 51 Grand Crus (!), and many lieux-dit (‘named’ places that are recognized but not considered as high quality as Grand Cru).

I’m currently located in the Haut-Rhin, the high-Rhine, or the south of Alsace. The higher slopes of the Vosges confer better sun exposure and water drainage for the grapes, thus the best wines tend to come from the Haut-Rhin rather than the Bas-Rhin, or northern Rhine. The domaine where I work has vineyard parcels in 5 of the Grand Crus, and 6 of the 7 ‘official’ Alsace grape varieties; in white: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat (no Sylvaner), and in red: Pinot Noir, in very small quantities. Read More

the hills are a lie

The carcasses of a deer and a wild boar are hanging up in a cold locker in my backyard right now. The former is roadkill, recovered by my landlord; the latter a prize from hunting the night before. It’s clear we’re not in Kansas anymore… The views here are spectacular but I’m realizing that there’s much more to Alsace than the picture-perfect images of mountains, quaint houses and vines absolutely everywhere. What is certain is that any romanticized expectations I may have previously harboured about working in the vines are well and truly dashed. My arms and legs are covered in fly, mosquito, spider and even horsefly bites, not to mention thistle spines, bruises and sunburn (the latter thankfully camouflages the worst of it). It actually reminds me a lot of my camino experience – physically demanding and exhausting but mentally exhilarating and rewarding. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

New digs, and the neighbour checks us out. On the street where I live, you can see the clouds up in the vines.

Our new digs, and the neighbour checks us out suspiciously. On the street where I live, you can see the clouds up in the vines.

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all the world’s a stage

Talk about an awkward ele-vader encounter.

Talk about an awkward ele-vader encounter.

Although I like to tell myself that I am the soul of wit and easy repartee in English (constantly…validation is so comforting!), it’s becoming painfully obvious that I’m nowhere close in French. Generously, I’m about the level of awkward elevator dialogue: my conversational one-two punch is 1) the weather and 2) how’s it going..? – with the hope that the answer is a simple ‘fine’, or ‘ça va’ as, with nothing left in my verbal arsenal, my follow up usually reverts back to 1) the weather. Fortunately, I am somewhat less terrible at hearing and understanding French, more so in person than, for example, over the phone. I’ve made much more progress here, but I need to focus very hard to pick up on facial and vocal cues to understand the words and context. Were I to be less forgiving, I might admit that it probably looks suspiciously like staring. So: awkward elevator encounter with someone who says next to nothing and stares, probably stands too close, and that’s French me in a nutshell. (I’m a hoot. We should totally hang out some time.) …This is why I prefer to communicate via email. Read More