Les Vendanges

Paris and I have a love hate relationship. I guess it’s historically been mostly hate more than love, and it’s mostly a one-way kind of feeling. In fact, I’m not entirely sure Paris has any feelings toward me whatsoever. Though to Paris’ credit, it’s really been taking my complaints to heart and trying to change; it has grown on me a bit over the years.

It all started when I was fourteen. As a small-town island girl, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on “the mainland”. To broaden my horizons, my mom decided to take me on a backpacking, Eurail Pass-toting, train-riding six-week trip through Europe after my freshman year of high school (Yes, I know. I have a cool mom). While visiting the City of Light, we had lunch with a friend in the 16th and then headed back to the metro station. As I was making my way across the Rue Victor Hugo (in a marked crosswalk, mind you), a hurried motorcyclist weaving between the traffic came out from between two cars and bowled me over to the ground.

Cue hysterical shrieking from my totally freaked out mom who just saw her daughter run down in front of her eyes, frantic french cursing from the driver of a now-broken motorcycle, and a chorus of insistent car horns from the very busy people who would like to continue driving down the street. So needless to say, Paris and I didn’t really start off on the right foot (actually my right foot was ok, but my right knee was banged up quite a bit…)

I gave Paris another shot when I was a college student, taking the train down from London with some study abroad friends to eat chaussons au pommes, shop on the Champs Elysee, and wander the Luxembourg Gardens. 

I’ve been back a handful of times over the years in just about every season. I’m learning to accept the fact that while many love Paris in the springtime, I’d just as soon stay home in the summer, winter, and fall as well. 

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My mom and I headed back to France this June to celebrate the end of my job and to start the summer off on a butter-and-cheese-filled foot. We skipped out on Paris and headed straight to La Bourgogne, an area of France I’d never seen but that advertised itself as a premier wine region. (Duh.)

I typically don’t really think twice about wine in my normal life. Some wines taste ‘good,’ some I don’t really like and some wine is expensive, some cheap; I’ve yet to identify a correlation between the two attributes.

Enter Burgundy. Vines. Everywhere you look vines. Hilltop towns squeezed in amongst the vines. Restaurants whose patios bleed into vines. Everyone, everywhere up and down this rich valley makes (or at the very least drinks) wine. Some of the best wines in the world come from this narrow strip of land, the difference between these 20 square feet of vines and those 10 feet up the hill make the difference between a $100 bottle and $10 bottle. The Burgundians follow the religion of “terroir,” an unknowable quality that is transferred from the land into the wine. The soil, slope, weather, and essence that determine what a grape will taste like. We spent a week here, eating and drinking our way up and down the valley.

I grew to like wine.

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Last weekend I traveled up to Lopez to help our friends who own the local winery with the harvest. My original plan was to travel back to Burgundy for “les vendanges” to harvest the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with the Charles family and their loyal annual harvest crew. When that trip fell through, I figured why not try out the local version.

This year is proving to be the most abundant harvest on record for our local NW winery. A motley crew of locals arrived in the morning and spread out into the rows, armed with snippers, 5 gallon buckets, and an appreciation for the uncharacteristically sunny September day. We snipped (mostly grapes, sometimes our fingers) and chatted through the rows, reaching out to voices of friends we hadn’t seen in a while (and still couldn’t see through the grapes). When each bucket was full, we traipsed down to the end of the row to them dump into a crate (and catch a glimpse of the long-lost-friend we’d been chatting with). 

The winemakers served us a homemade lunch of Greek mezze and a tasting of the last eight years of vintages of the Siegerrebe grape we’d just finished picking. After the crowds headed home, I stayed behind to help scrub out the tanks, pitch the grapes into the crusher, and turn the harvest into a golden nectar. 

The combination of a long, warm summer and the absence of any early fall rains has led to plump, juice-filled bunches of grapes with very little mold. Nearly every bunch was beautiful. I'll head back on the 27th to harvest the next variety (Madeleine Angevine - In fact, anyone in the Seattle area is welcome to join. They need lots of help!) Pitching in on the process from vine to vat certainly helped to further my new-found appreciation of wine.

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The drink of choice throughout Burgundy is “Kir,” made with local Aligote white wine and a pour of creme de cassis. I prefer the amped up version, “Kir Royale,” which is made with sparkling wine instead. This cocktail is one of my father’s favorites and need not be reserved for a special occasion. Life is too short. Drink champagne.

Kir Royale

Ingredients:
1 bottle sparkling wine, prosecco or champagne (you can buy a decent bottle of sparking wine these days for under $15. I like Valdo)
Creme de cassis
Orange or lemon rind for garnish

Pour a dollop of creme de cassis into champagne flute. Fill with bubbly and garnish with a twisted citrus rind. Enjoy!

This is as close as I could find to a picture of a Kir Royale, mostly because I usually drink them before I think to snap a photo. They're that good. I also included a stock photo so you can see the "before" look.