Bordeaux Update #3: Wines place at the French table
by Abby Jones
When heading to Bordeaux, I was not only interested the winemaking, but also how wine exists in French culture. This proved to be an enriching education that didn't require my loyal fellow intern translating everything for me, as instead I was able to suck up all from observation and simply being here in the midst of it.
France is where wine all began (citation needed...) and the cultural importance placed on these little 750ml bottles is significant to say the least. It's engrained in their history and, for a pretty big chunk of the French population, it has a part in their day to day lives.
It was a highlight watching the screenplay of French meal time and lunch, for me, was nothing short of a spectacle. Sitting and soaking up how the meal is enjoyed, how the wine is shared and how the conversation rolls is both joyous and interesting. Coming from a very Kiwi perspective where our half hour lunch is spent hunched over our leftovers, I relished the opportunity to spend my lunch hour socialising, sipping at wine and, you guessed it, eating.
It's necessary to elaborate on the food. We're fed well during the harvest - very well indeed. Think five course meal and not the stingy, tiny portion kind; this is all-hearty, all-hearty delicious. First soup, then salad, then mains (such as fish and potatoes or lasagne), then cheese, then dessert. All whilst bread is being used to mop up sauces and accompany the cheese. And this may sound excessive but it's for good reason that we have such a feast as the days are long and the work is hard. Time spent on your feet exerting yourself is high during the vendenges (harvest) and the massive chunks of cheese and buffet-style set up is necessary for fuel.
The food wasn't only interesting because of the quantity and deliciousness, but because observing my French colleagues and their relationship to food was refreshing and just awesome. Meal-time was guilt-free. Food is nourishment. And this isn't bulked up, processed heaps of food, instead it's well-sourced, great quality, local produce. It tastes amazing and is here to be enjoyed, and everyone makes sure of that. It wasn't thrown down the hatch but savoured course by course. People ate what they enjoyed, made the most of what was in front of them and stopped when full. Food is one of the many pleasures of French life, and that's exactly how it's treated.
In regards to the wine, there's bottles scattered across each table to enjoy with lunch. Central in both a physical and metaphorical sense, and shared amongst the team as a reward for all their hard yakka. It's not there to throw back and drown the fatigue, but instead to enhance the food and remind us of why we're all there working so hard. I luckily sat next to a bit of a connoisseur who sniffed out the best bottles from across the tables for us and would sneakily swap bottles to bring back for the group (thank you, Olivia).
I was in awe of this; serving wine at lunch during work?! What a foreign concept. But it quickly became routine and I became fully immersed in this French practice. It's not excessive or greedy or over the top, it's tradition. In the "Art of Living" section at Cite du Vin (a wine museum in Bordeaux), I saw a beautiful summary:
"Wine is closely connected with ideas of sharing and conviviality... wine is synonymous with a certain art of living."