The Hallgarten HeadStart apprenticeship sees one individual experience all parts of the Hallgarten business within an 18 month programme. From the accounts team, to marketing, to spending time with one of our producer partners – it is truly a 360 degree experience! HeadStart apprentice, Alex Parsons, has just returned from Bordeaux where he spent a month with Estelle Roumage, at Château Lestrille. In his own words, here’s what he got up to:
“Hard graft! Long Hours! You’re going to be exhausted…!” Swiftly following by a smirk was what I greeted with for most of the time before I went away. A harvest – a vintage, however you wish to call it – has been a dream of mine to be a part of since I started getting into wine, and now was my opportunity.
Château Lestrille in the criminally underappreciated Entre-deux-Mers within the Bordeaux appellation, was the destination. Family run since 1901, Estelle Roumage heads up a small but truly extraordinary team that just don’t stop. Sylvia (Oenologist), Valerie and Donny (Winery) are patient and incredibly determined to get things perfect when they know they can. Patrick is part of the vineyard team and was very welcoming. Valerie and Patrick were especially tough to communicate with as my French is abysmal and they don’t speak English, though we did enjoy the occasional fist-bump and shouting the odd French term to our own amusement.
The very first day set the tone, really. Estelle greeted me at the airport, regaling me with tales of the harvest so far (I arrived towards the end of the white grapes being harvested). Early mornings – she had been up since 4am (local time) – and long days. In short, this month I was out there was not going to be a cakewalk.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone from an office job to a job where every day is a workout, but this was it. No one can prep you for the sudden change or for the realisations along the way, so let’s go through the realisations that I had while experiencing winemaking first hand in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever been.
1) Grape skins are heavy.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been surrounded by the pulped skins of about a million grapes sitting idly in the bottom of a tank. Moving them is one the toughest things I’ve ever had to do, other than trying to open my one-year-old niece’s hand when she’s holding something she shouldn’t. Not to mention the tank I was in was rendered frictionless by the time the juice has its way with it. Shovelling heavy grapes, trying to keep one’s balance, becomes a little bit of a circus act of which you are hot and sticky throughout.
2) There are a lot of grape skins.
Once all of them are out of the tank and filtered into the press to extract that last bit of juice from them, there must be someone on the press pushing or pulling them to equal the distribution, otherwise they won’t go in. Using a shovel and my will to live, I moved those skins, but they would not stop coming. It felt like years before the stream ended, not to mention the occasional moment where my stability was tested, and I almost fell in headfirst.
3) Le graisse c’est la vie.
To those of you who do not speak French – what I’ve recently discovered to be wonderful to listen to – this means “fat is life”. Butter, lard, any combination or derivations of them are essentially the way they live in this part of France. It’s a culture, a way of life, traditions and heritage depend on it, and it’s delicious, truly. The food that I was able to enjoy at the incredibly deft hands of Estelle was inspirational.
No matter how demanding things were physically or mentally, it was an experience of a lifetime and I do consider myself lucky for having been able to do it (I thanked Estelle and her family every day for the opportunity, and I will continue to do so until the day I die). I’ve been home for three weeks and my feet still despise me. It took me about a week to get used to it, and another two weeks for my body to realise it was used to it, and by the fourth week it wanted to shut down. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was unique, exciting, different and I cannot be more appreciative to Hallgarten or Chateau Lestrille for giving me the chance.