After studying in Toulouse for a month, most of us students in EI Purpan were packed and shipped to our individual internship locations for another month of practical work. Being in the viticulture & enology program, we were matched to wine-related facilities, most commonly vineyards. In my case, my internship location was a chai, a vineyard, as well as a pépenière. north of Bordeaux, in a small village called Générac. Wines produced here belong to the côtes-de-blaye or the blaye-côtes-de-bordeaux appellation, part of the appellations system of Bordeaux. The vineyard is large compared to most and fully mechanized, but the pépenière relies on manual labor, so that was where I worked most of the time. Later when it became too hot to work in greenhouses we went to the chai (the brewing and labeling facility) to label bottles from previous years. In the two greenhouses, I worked with the host madame’s niece to sort through grafted vines based on their sizes and health, picked away off shoots growing from the root stem, watered them and loaded the plants onto vans. The greenhouses are full of interesting critters like orange slugs, toads, and once we saw a green salamander.
Everyday my work starts at 8 am, at noon we have lunch and siesta, then resume back to work from 2 pm to 5 or 6 pm depending on how much work is to be done on that day. For every meal (breakfast excluded) it was usually the madame, her husband and me at the table, sometimes a relative or two would come over for lunch; no mater how many people ate together, the food was always brought out in courses: aperitif, starters (usually melons, pretzel snacks, or a slice or country ham), main course, salad (which became synonymous with lettuce), cheeses and dessert. I liked how it is mandatory to “make the table” before the start of every meal — having the plate, silverware, water glass, napkin all ready to use really makes eating a more serious business. There are certain patterns in foods too. For example, every Saturday the couple’s youngest daughter comes over to make steak and fries, every Sunday is a family gathering of 10 people or more.
While interning here, the madame and her in-law’s family showed nothing but hospitality and inclusion. Together we went to the Citadel of Blaye, Saint-Emilion (a famed Bordeaux wine producing region and appellation), Plassac at the bank of the Gironde river with its historical buildings and yellow stone houses, we also biked to a lake and watched the music festival there; one Saturday the in-law broke out her horse riding gadgets and let me ride with their ponies.
On the 14th of July, instead of going to the jumping show at the Citadel with the family, I asked for a day-off on Friday and went hiking in Cantal. Le Cantal is known for its mountain range and great cheeses, and soon after I told them my plan the madame and the in-law’s family decided to join me as well — the hike later turned into a family road-trip in a snuggly camping car.
I can only be grateful for the good hearts of these hard-working people, knowing how many different jobs it involves to make a bottle of wine, and understanding what family unity means to the château, when every child who comes to visit, 35 or 20 years old, would help out in the greenhouses or the chai.