First of all let me say, I don’t drink wine. I don’t drink alcohol. However, I do love grape juice.
On assignment, I was staying in a bed and breakfast in Marcy en Beaujolias, a tiny village in French wine country, not far from Lyon, France. Not wanting to miss out on seeing the country side, I went for a walk early one morning. I only had an hour before I had to leave, so, as usual, I was in a hurry.
The morning was beautiful. The late September sun was casting long morning shadows on stone walls and stone balconies built in the twelfth century. I was transported in time. As I walked, I quickly ran out of village and found myself in the midst of a gorgeous, hilly vineyard countryside. The grape harvest was in progress. The vines were heavy with rich, red grapes, dripping with morning dew. Some of the leaves on the vines were changing from brilliant green to autumn red, indicating the close of another season.
On the harvester, another man sorted grapes and plucked the leaves from the harvest, in preparation for processing. The scene was magical, beautiful. I lost track of time as I walked a narrow lane through the vineyard. As I walked, a truck filled with grapes pulled up next to me. An old man beckoned me to “come, come.” I approached him and he motioned for me to get in the truck. He spoke as much English as I spoke French, next to nothing. The old man’s face was lined with wrinkles, leathered over the course of many seasons in the sun. His hair was gray. His beard was gray. His eyes twinkled. I climbed in the truck. He smiled as we drove through the vineyard. He would point to things as he talked. I enjoyed the view and the lilting sound of his voice, but I had no idea what he was saying.
After about fifteen minutes, he backed into an ancient stone building. We got out of the truck as the old man pointed out important parts of his winery, talking non-stop. Another man, younger, shorter, but just as weathered, joined us with a smile. The younger man held a pitchfork in his hands. They pressed a lever and the bed of the truck rose, dumping grapes and juice into a vat below the truck. As the younger man forked the grapes from the truck the older man pointed out a large vat with a spinning mixer, turning and mashing grapes. The rich fragrance of grape juice was intoxicating. I could tastes the juice in the air it was so think and delicious.
As I took pictures, the old man motioned me to follow. We went down a stone staircase into darkness. He flipped a switch and I was surrounded by gigantic wooden wine barrels. I think he was telling me that this was where they aged the wine. We went further underground into a wine cellar with an arched stone roof. Here, he showcased the Beaujolais wine he was so proud of.
After looking around, he led me back up the stone steps into the light. The truck was empty, time for another load. We got back in the truck and he drove me back to the village.
Before I left the truck, I asked his name. “Pierre”, he said, “Peter, in English.” We shook hands and I climbed out of the truck. Pierre drove away with a smile. I stood there, basking in the morning sun amidst the fragrant vineyard of a magical valley deep in the heart of France. I marveled at the unexpected adventure I had just experienced. Pierre, like his father before him, and his father’s father’s father before them, has been making wine his entire life. On this day, perhaps unremarkable for him, yet most remarkable for me, Pierre offered a magical glimpse into a tradition that crossed the ages, jumped the stone fences and bridged our cultures through kindness. I will not forget his friendship.
So, if you happen to be in Marcy en Beaujolais on a sunny morning during grape harvest season, be sure to take a walk through the vineyards. Look for a gray-haired man with a twinkle in his eye. While I don’t drink wine, I can, wholeheartedly recommend the grape juice. And, I can say from first-hand experience, there is still magic in the world and kindness without fear.