A masons’s trowel scrapes the granite and the ears, as walls are being rebuilt on Hermitage. Piece by piece granite is added sourced north of here as it takes longer to decompose. A vineyard team is having a rest, 8 pruners each sitting on the same stable wall in one neat row. Swinging their legs as they hit the wall and munch on croissants in unison, whilst steam escapes their thermos cups and warm coffee enters their bodies. It’s an essential ingredient for a winter pruner’s lunch box. Cigarette smoke circulates in the air, as a master with his horse also share in a break between tilling rows of soil. The pace and patience of their team work subsiding any residual concerns of the day. A bit like the effect of watching passing clouds.
The sky is moody. It feels perpetually grey and yet it has been like this just for a few weeks. A hallmark of the season. Where it seems like time stops, landscape is still frozen by the hands of nature’s cool air.
The people like the landscape are resting, rejuvenating, shedding layers and making plans. In comfort, inside their warm homes. Yet there are grains of texture in the sky from wafting smoke. Not all are in their cocoon. Charcoal smells that remind one of conversations around a fire, wisdom shared just like the warmth.
The kind of comraderie needed to lift the spirit of the pruners. Conversations with French accents, notes of ‘Hermitage’ and words like ‘dur’ escape the mouths of pruners and travel into the hills, just like the smoke. A word meaning hard, expressing the feeling in the hands, the mindset needed to muster might pruning on brittle days and the look of the vines; bare, naked, yet not lifeless, just in their sleeping seasonal hours.
The smoke signifies progress – trunks and canes are cut first, burned second. In a few months’ time their personalities will not be contained. A moody sky no more. They’ll aim to reach the sky. They’ll too make you work hard. ’Hard’ will bring on a new meaning. Hard for the temperature of the sun on the skin, hard for the feeling of dehydration, hard for the physical work when vines are clothed, alive and awake in their seasonal hours.
Following the trail of smoke, it leads to a place of warmth, a place to heat the hands on this winter morning. With an exhale visible air escapes the nostrils. What was once piles of old vine trunks and lignified canes, disintegrate to soot. The song ‘Turn to Stone’ the craft of Ingrid Michaelson come to mind. Acknowledgment of the speed at which form disintegrates to ash the latter disguised as hopeful snowflakes. A bit like the snow that gently brushed the hill earlier this week, still visible over the River Rhône on the roofs of homes on the opposing hills of St Joseph.
Above, flocks of birds create ripples in the air through their rush of unified momentum. They are heading for the Marsanne vines owned by Maison Paul Jaboulet Âine, signposted by a large stone wall. Not far from there, three workers are building their own circle of comraderie, whilst using big stones the size of gallets from Châteauneuf- du Pape to punch posts into the ground. The posts will act as a spine for the growing vines in months to come, it is important they are stable.
Cars drive around the curves of the hill, the road separating vineyards on the way to Larnage. A reminder of the need for mechanisation to support work in nature. Sounds of the electric sécateurs and the engines of tractors trip the circuit of silence, the silence that allowed burning embers to take centre stage. It strikes 11.59am and the pruning team turn their electric secateurs off, they are already walking back to their cars. It is clock watching kind of work in the cold. Minutes are golden. They sit in their cars to thaw their hands, maybe drink a thermos coffee, light a cigarette and appreciate a form of warmth. Not quite like, yet close enough to the residents of Tain L’Hermitage who too are eating lunch in their homes.
Rain taps the leaves of the laurier tree just outside the window, there is a strong force of wind and a powdered fog travelling past. Signs of snow not far. It is Christmas and the internal forces tether the soul, just like the weather. A pendulum of complete calm – candle lighting and chai tea in bed. Juxtaposed with the weight of a heavy aching heart and the wrestle between finding peace in the moment and wishing for today to become yesterday.
Memories of times when clouds were guide for thoughts I hoped were just passing too. These thoughts never seemed to behave the way clouds do above in the vineyard skies. The thoughts seemed heavy, gravity pulling them towards the earth at my feet. Yet to look up and see these clouds floating, they appeared fluffy and welcoming. There was air between them, space, pockets of room to read the lessons that they offered. A peace offering. To focus on them slowed the traffic jam of thoughts that blocked roads to ‘freedom’ in the mind. Once, nowhere to move, tight and restricted, transitioned to patience on her roads and space in the lanes.
Merry Christmas, take care of each other.
The sun warms the tiles that form the top of a wall on Rue de La Marsanne. The wall, more like a clos belongs to an ordinary human, who appreciates such a siting. When one first cracks open a loaf of hot bread and aromas of caramel, roasted sunflower seeds and baked yeast transpire- there is also steam. These tiles have a similar effect, what looks like steam, rises above them then ever so slowly passes to their left. An interaction between the cool morning and warm sun. Signs of a gentle force bending like a flame, ‘blowing in the wind’.
Caressing the skirting of this wall is one idle fig tree. Little sparrow birds who could fit into the palm of one’s hand arrive in search of their morning snack. Their beaks motion forward and back in micro movements, as they peck what looks like Christmas baubles hanging by string. They are similar to the ones in sight, hanging on the Christmas tree. On the menu this morning is seeded grain, millet and cracked corn. The weight of each branch just enough for the footing of a single bird. Some pirouette around single branches, some dance from branch to branch in search of a better angle to approach their morsel of the bauble.
Then the sun hides, the day turns grey, the steam disappears and the birds fly away. A candle inside the house brings a light, different to the sun but nourishing all the same.
The morning sun on Rue de la Marsanne, Tain L’Hermitage and the encouragement of Stuart Smith. Stuart is a vigneron of Vinlea Beechworth and 2019 GT Wine Communicator of Australia New Wine Writer Award. He suggested to explore writing in a more descriptive way, something he is natural at. It took about an hour to write this piece. At least 45 minutes for corrections and playing around with the sentences. But I felt so calm writing it, less so editing. It definitely doesn’t feel like a natural style, it feels like I am ‘trying’ too hard. But it has inspired me to think ‘Who is this for?’ thanks to Seth Godin’s book The Practice: Shipping creative work. Thanks to Steve, how can I make the reader feel closer to where I am. Not just provide recounts.
This writing also took me on an educational adventure. As I played with descriptions, it took me to the song ‘Candle in the Wind’ – the song written by Bernard Taupin and sung by Elton John.
I didn’t know that this song was originally written 11 years after the death of Marilyn Monroe and then re-produced with new words for the funeral of Princess Diana.
Such a beautiful thought a ‘Candle in the wind’.
Discovering the unity of these two talents.
There was an advertisement in the UK music paper New Musical express by Liberty Records who were searching for singer/songwriters. Both Bernard Taupin a beautiful song writer that could not compose music and Elton John a working musician who could compose but not write music – responded to the same advertisement. Neither of them passed the audition for Liberty Records. The story goes Elton John told the guy behind the desk that he could not write lyrics, so the guy handed Elton a sealed envelope from the pile of people who submitted lyrics. He opened it on the London Underground on his way home. This envelope included poems by Taupin.
They then formed a working partnership formed by this chance. They have now been connected for 50 years and together they created more than 30 albums.
We just never know who we will meet along the way.
Nostalgia returns, transported to spring times. Tucking big green canes and shoots under the wires, as the vines would shoot for the sky. Memories of conversations shared and icecreams inhaled in 46 degree heat – just at this very spot. We sure coverered a lot of ‘ground’ working these rows with the vineyard team of @pauljabouletaine. Today I think of them. A different season, in a different year. It is a winter afternoon on the base of ‘Les Bessards’, the ‘bones’ of Hermitage AOC Syrah. Tucking pre- pruned canes into each other, to form a Christmas wreath. Feat scuffing the granite, smelling the dampness of the canes and the earth. The vines might be doing some winter sleeping but their ‘nerve’ is still here.
It’s been over 10 years since Rhône Girl’s first official wine event back in 2010. I remember sending letters and emails to over 50 Australian wineries in the hope they would provide a few bottles – as donations for a charity wine event in Sydney for Australian Youth Against Cancer.
Dad sat down with me and a wine directory of contacts, highlighting the wineries he thought would be a good start. I found confidence in getting on the phone, giving directions regarding logistics, creating relationships and thanking the generous people. He encouraged me to have a go.
I was overwhelmed when I received over 100 bottles of wine. These were used to entertain the guests, I’d pitched it also as a marketing exercise for valued brands of Australia. For those generous enough to send more than one bottle, they were used as prizes in a wine auction on the day. Over 50 people attended travelling across Sydney to the little suburb of Croydon to support the initiative.
At 20 I never thought it was anything big, I was fussing over details, naively trying to make the event perfect. Over 10 years later, I see it as something. The same networks are still important today and the adventures across France and Australia have created even more to add to my own directory.
Sunday’s in the Rhône, St Joseph AOC in the backdrop. The sun acts as a personal heater, the horses exhale warmth from their nose, the sound of real Rhône Girl’s directing their pony’s brings delight. Seeing the care these girls give their animals. Then the love returned to them. The energetic connection of man and their horse. The calm they bring to the human spirit tames the tides of uncertainty that unexpectedly rise and fall within.
It’s pruning season on the Hill of Hermitage and it’s bringing back memories of pruning the Goblet vines of Stone Tryst Beechworth, earlier this year. A vineyard with history that takes us back to the first vines planted in Beechworth, on this same site in the 1860’s. The then vigneron, was a Frenchman Ambrose Granjoux.
We’re in correspondence between Beechworth and Hermitage this week, comparing pruning techniques across the two hemispheres. The pruned canes on Hermitage AOC are neatly piled, to be burned later. We did the same in Beechworth but we also planned ahead. The canes burn hot, fast, so they’re perfect for sizzling a protein of choice.