August 29, 2014
Volnay is a very peaceful, quiet town of about 350 residents, almost all of whom are
involved in the wine trade. This morning it appeared the entire village was outside my
door: trucks, vans, cars of all sorts. Upon arriving at work I surprised to be told to grab
my cellar boots and hop in the van with the rest of the crew: this was straight out of the
A-Team, but in French. I was soon back in front of my house, joined the throng of wine
workers and was shaking hands and exchanging “bonjours” with dozens of folks.
It turned out that back in 2012 there was an outbreak of Flavescence Doree (a nasty
disease mainly found in Europe that kills vines) in the Maconnais which is south of
the Cote D’Or and just north of Beaujolais. So how does one combat such a lethal
opponent? Why, by having all the vignerons band together, bring out all their crews,
and examine every vine in the entire region. Remarkable. There was an unbelievable
sense of community and purpose among the group. Maps were handed out to all of the
chief vignerons, more people from other domaines leaped into our van (making about a
dozen) and off we sped to the first vineyard. And by jingoes, if it wasn’t exactly where I
had taken my reconnaissance stroll the night before.
By hiking through vineyards for the next four hours I quickly came to appreciate the
difference between Volnay premier cru vineyards (great work-out up and down big hills)
versus the village or regional Bourgogne vineyards (flat and easy to walk through). Our
crew finished up our sections just before noon and headed to the communal “casse-
croute” at a meeting hall across from my house. Normally “casse-croute” is a snack
break taken every morning around 9:30 a.m. Today’s casse-croute, however was at
noon and much more substantial.
My first mistake was thinking that I might not find enough to eat, and my second was
wondering if there would be any wine involved. There were platters of cured ham
(along the lines of prosciutto, but there are dozens of local varieties in France), dried
saucissons (like salamis and such), vegetables, and of course baguettes at every table.
One of my co-workers grabbed the baguette, broke it into sections, passed them out to
everyone at our table, and the feast was on. Turns out all the vignerons brought a few
bottles from their respective domaines for the occasion.
I started with a white which someone poured me out of an unlabeled bottle, then moved
on to a Pommard (also unlabeled) which was from the domaine of the gentleman sitting
next to me. Somehow over the next two and a half hours my glass was never empty
(without my pouring a single drop for myself) and just when I was wondering how I was
going to be able to roll barrels later that afternoon, my boss walked over and set down
a bottle of his wine in front of me. What would you have done? Right. And then he
brought over a premier cru Volnay from one of the other finest producers in town. And
of course there were platters of cheeses and jambon persille (parsley encrusted ham)
that appeared, followed by plum tarts that were the size of large pies. The clean-up
process was most impressive: much like the dwarves after feasting at Mr. Baggins’
home. A hundred hands quickly removed all the dishes, disassembled and stowed
away all the tables, stacked all the chairs, and swept the floors clean—in minutes…
Back at the cellar I lifted, rolled, and prepped many barrels before the church belled
mercifully tolled 6:00 p.m. And that was when Monsieur Lafarge, the elder, appeared
and invited me to join in a tasting with some visitors from the United States. Enjoying
wine from the vineyards I had worked in that very day was a pleasant way to finish my
first week of work in Burgundy.