Lockdown in a Côtes de Bourg vineyard

Chateau Grolet, Saint Ciers de Canesse

I have not written for a while. A pandemic rages across the world and I find myself under a lockdown, only allowed out to shop. I had a week of intense loneliness until Guillaume, one of the owners of chateau Grolet and Peybonhomme, started to visit regularly and invited me to help out in the fields, which I have been gladly doing every day. I am paid in wine!

First, a tractor driver called Michele, ploughed a 30cm section each side of the vines and cuts the grass as the plough goes. I have then been tying baby vines to wooden steaks, a tie at the base and one up top if the growth allows. Other teams, hired help, pull the wires free from tangles, then tie the vine tips to the main wire. It is all slightly behind schedule this year I am told.

Each day I learn at least one new thing from Guillaume, usually many things. One day I learned about the ragondine, a large water rat, after seeing one in the lake, the next day I learn some new French words, the day after I am taught about a new grape variety they are experimenting with, from Portugal, called Touriga Nacional. Always with his quiet but confident, gentle and kind manner.

The other night there was almost, but not quite frost. I found that many vineyards, from the Valais to St Emilion, light torches of flame between the rows of vine, which individually looks commonplace enough, but on a hectare scale dazzles with ethereal charm and splendour; yet remains entirely utilitarian.

Guillaume is regularly accompanied by a scruffy young dog named Bobby, who is so unkempt he possesses dreadlocks. Bobby is a barker at first, but as soft as they come once the proper introductions have been made.

And so here I am, desperately lonely most of each day, craving touch, company, a hug, learning about wine, working the fields, whilst a plague sweeps around the world. Everything seems rather surreal, and I try not to think about it too much. I am very fortunate, I have secure accommodation and financial security, but my heart aches for my friends who do not back in Scotland. It was quite by chance that this pandemic and lock down hit just as I was left alone on a vineyard, and I thank chance, for there is no where I would rather be at this time.

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