A photo diary: the passing days of a grape harvest in rural France. These photos chronicle 12 days of harvest at the vineyards of Aubert & Pamela de Villaine in the village of Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise. The harvest usually begins in late September, the date coming more or less one hundred days after the flowering of the vines in the early summer.
For the harvester, the workday begins at 7:45am and ends around 6:00pm. The days are spent working in teams up rows of vines one plot after the next. The mornings are cold and the afternoons are often warm. In the trucks that carry the workers to the vines lies a pile discarded sweaters and coats.
The anticipation of the lunch break and dinner is fueled by occasional bottles of the wine and water passing between the vines. Before lunch, we wash the mud from our clothes with a garden hose. Lunch invariably includes a meat stew, wine, cheese and fruit. Conditions when the foreman is most eager to get back to work: impending storms, late starts, troubles with the tractors.
It matters to have good rubber gloves, good clippers and interesting co-workers. Although each day is long, one falls into the next. In a routine of working between the vines buried in one's thoughts, rising up to see the wide vistas, stopping for conversations, water or wine, or sharing songs and words between the grape leaves, the fortnight can begin to seem like a single long day. The day is punctuated by highs and lows, shifting moods, and changing weather.
At the moment he announces the harvest,the winemaker is gambling with nature. Bring forty harvesters to your property too early, you pay for them to sit about; if they come too late, you might lose the harvest to rain or hail. The problem is complicated by growing three different varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Aligoté – which ripen at different times. Hail in the next village is ominous: for winemakers just over the crest of the hill, the hail has caused the loss of a year's work.
Although the Aligoté is the most important grape in this vineyard, it ripens slightly later than the other varieties that are growing. First to come in is the Chardonnay, then the Pinot Noir. The order of cutting is a question of ripeness, value and practicalities. The grapes cannot all be cut in one day.
In cutting the reds, one must watch carefully to spot ripeness and rot. A sour taste will tell, but it will also pucker the mouth. One looks for the light pink or green showing through the skins.
Gloves wear through quickly. Without them, the sugary moistness of the grapes helps to bring on blisters. The gloves, clippers, and grapes become intimate objects – extensions of the flesh.
With tough, tannin-rich skins, the grapes taste a little bitter. To make a good wine they must offer a balance of acids and fruit sugars. The aromas and flavors of the wine to be made exisit now only as potential. In harvest, it matters that the grapes arrive at the winery undamaged and as soon as possible after they are cut.
The grapes pass from the vines to buckets, from the buckets to panniers, from the panniers to tractors, from the tractors to the winery. How much care the grapes receive at each stage is mediated by cost. The choices are determined by the market value of the wine that the grapes of a particular terroir can produce.
Tasks are assigned and repetitive. The pickers select the grapes: Red grapes should not be cut too green, or with too much leaf. Rotten grapes should be cut away. At the tractor, the foreman eyes the quality of the grapes. The porter who has carried the grapes to the tractor may return to the harvesters in his team with instructions or admonitions.
Best are the tiny concentrated grapes of older vines whose roots reach far into the bedrock where they extract richer mineral content. Vines become worth harvesting after about four years and can produce good yields for fifty or sixty years – a human's lifetime. The unique quality of time felt during the harvest is set against the long history of the vines and the culture supporting them – vines are planted for lifetimes and across generations.
We, too, come from various generations. There are mothers and their daughters, cousins, immigrants, returning workers, local friends, and students. A number of local factory workers, once connected to the vineyard, join the harvest for the festive first day. A couple from Poland who met here at a harvest over a decade ago when the money mattered more, now come each year for a working holiday.
At the dining table there is a kind of weary revelry. In work, there is little time to stop or reflect on the action at hand. The dining tables are in a cavernous room beneath the house and dormitories. The room is dark and comforting to eyes that have come in from hours in the sun. The space is damp and has a rich smell of the meat stews we are served.
The soft, thick and crumbling stone walls fall into darkness illuminated only by the small beams of light that come from the door and small deep windows. In the vines we begin thinking of lunch ahead. In the dining hall, there is a desire to remain suspended between the memory and anticipation of the work outside.
Visually, when one is working in the vines, the world seems either very near or very distant; it is a world of close-ups and landscape vistas. The presence of the fellow workers comes by way of the sounds and conversations which pass through the thicket. You feel your body in parts: your hands, your knees, or your back, and you catch the occasional glimpse of other workers in fragments through the leaves, posts, and wires.





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Recognitions are a photo's proposition: a sense of peace in the vines, the urgency of a boss, the forms of faces in changing light, the halting of time as the harvesters rest and regard the view at the end of a row of vines.     Movements are arrested, their narrative directions are like vectors – the stories are not yet determined. Against the (e)motion of stillness and the seeming timelessness of lunch hours in the winery caverns, I recall the immediacy of carrying a pannier full of grapes and the pressuring shouts of Jean-Louis, the harvest foreman.

Shuffling these photo documents into differing orders, I find myself reinventing a series of pasts in the hindsight of narrative. Organizing the photos in a row reminds me of comic strips, of the slide strips of old viewing machines, of film storyboards, and of dream recollections where the conjunctions between images have slipped from memory. Jumping back and forth, patterns emerge of alternative stories. The focus shifts to the space between the people and the landscape views – to the enveloping world of vines, grapes, posts and soils. Angles by which I viewed people resemble others I took of objects.
 The histories of people differ from those of images which direct the eye to see continuities and contrasts. Such pictures describe relationships between one person and another or between people, the objects they use, and spaces they occupy.             END OF SAMPLE.... WORK CONTINUES...

In the vines one day, Aubert de Villaine tells me that for him, "Wine is an image," by which he means, as he goes on to say, that each aspect of winemaking is part of a process of working toward an ideal form. The image, he tells me, is "based on the wines that he has known in the past." His goal is to make wine in ‘the simplest ways possible’ to yield a product that is pure.

This "image" of the wine is a reflection of Aubert's taste, memory and knowledge of what different soils, grapes and conditions might provide.It is a reflection of cultural ideals he holds about balance, structure and elegance. As other winemakers would repeatedly tell me, a wine is a reflection of the character of the maker who has envisioned and produced it.

Aubert and Pamela moved to Bouzeron in 1970. Although winemaking was introduced to this valley by the church in the middle ages, the vines had been since abandonned. When Aubert and Pamela arrived there was little winemaking here. However, through research in the archives at Macon and elsewhere, Aubert discovered that the valley had a history of winemaking and was once particularly known for the white Aligoté.

Following the deadly outbreak of phylloxera, a pest native to North America that destroyed most of the French vineyards at the end of the nineteenth century, the area around Bouzeron was, for the most part, not replanted. This was probably because the land here is less suited to the more popular Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines that were being planted in other areas to the north on the Côte d'Or, some of which had also been previously recognized for their Aligoté production.

The classification of the terroir and its wines is achieved through a system of ranking known as the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). The ranks include regional wine designations such as "Bourgogne Aligoté," village specific appellations, premiere growths, and grand cru. These rankings, developed in the 1930s, are based on expectations of what differing terroirs can produce.

Even the greatest Aligoté is a modest wine when compared to the famous grand cru Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of the Côte d'Or. Aubert's vision of his wine is based on what he believes a terroir can yield. His role is to assist in a natural process. This includes moderating negative forces, such as those of frost and mildew, which can diminish the health of the vine and the positive qualities of grapes. The vision is also based on how he envisions the work and the world he builds for himself. To make wine, Aubert once remarked, you always stand before a white sheet, not knowing what nature has in store for you. In this way you are both the maker and marionette.

The AOC sets requirements such as varietal percentages and minimum sugar levels such that a wine grown on grand cru soils might not obtain its grand cru status on a particularly poor year. At Bouzeron, Aubert worked with the other winemakers to gain AOC village status, the only such status in France for the Aligoté. Around the village of Bouzeron the soil is particularly poor. De Villaine believes this helps intensify the flavors of the Aligoté which is a vigorous vine. At the same time the conditions are more challenging than the Côte d’Ort; an ideal image of a wine co-exists with that determined by temporal, economic, or even cultural circumstances.

Aubert arrived in Bouzeron with extensive experience in the issues of making grand cru wine. He followed his father as a co-owner/winemaker at the famous Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Vosne-Romanée where he continues to make grand cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Making a wine in the less established valley of Bouzeron presents a different set of challenges, such as a more frequent risk of frost, and less options in solving problems because the price that local wine can fetch will not support the use of expensive technologies.

Aubert sees himself as participating in a long history of winemaking. He reads logs from past winemakers to learn about prior knowledge of the terroir and climate conditions and he writes notes of his own experiences over time. Along with developing the Bouzeron Aligoté, Aubert has been a force in promoting a regional identity for this area south of the prestigious Côte d’Or under the name of the Côte Chalonnaise. Its vineyards stretch across the hills above the Soâne between Chagny and Chalon-sur-Soâne to include towns such as Givry, Mercurey, and Rully.

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