A Reflection on My Time in a French Vineyard

Justin Lee Parker
3 min readOct 3, 2019

The sound of her voice wasn’t strong or emphatic, but her demands on the group’s attention cut across side conversations with surprising ease. Maybe it was with the assistance of a few of our “wranglers,” maybe it was out of our own respect for the woman, the wine. Maybe it was the sacred, expansive view from the top of the hill. That would silence most people.

With a polite tentativeness to her smile that suggested being used to command, she spoke with sincere gravity about the stone in the ground, and the way that the sun struck the vines evenly from one horizon to the next. Just right. How the gradation of the landscape allowed water to drain away, which the vines needed to thrive. She spoke about the way their roots reached down into cracks in the rock, created by frozen water expanding during winter — and how they had begun to help nature with that process, recently. She spoke about the history of the wine trade in France, about Roman domination. She spoke about slavery and secrets.

We came to Savennières dressed in dinner party vestments, but were greeted by the gentle demands of sprawling nature. A park. A walk. We guessed at the age of the chateau. I guessed wrong. We paused to hear her recount how the richesse of greenery had inspired vine growers to build large gardens, full of variety and of Latin. We heard her speak of paths that always meandered back to the chateau. And then, a climb.

At the summit, she proclaimed us to be her ambassadors, and that struck me as heavy handed. This was wine we were discussing. Surely the world didn’t need our voices in the long conversation begun before Jesus went to Cana. I didn’t know under what circumstances we had entered her vineyard: As guests? As tourists? Was this her fee?

She insisted that, although the grapes were the foundation of the vintage, they were almost to be forgotten. The weightier matters belonged to the ground. There were some areas of the hills of Savienneres more unique than the others, given special attention because of their rocks. Over the river was another wine country altogether, because the land said it was so.

It was what the soil did that counted, what the minerals in the soil did, to influence the wine’s taste. It was what the wind did. And the rain. And the Loire valley sun. It was what the countryside and the grapes did in their season of time together that was important. And above all, it was the winemaker, who called the harvest when the forces of acidity and sweetness were in harmony. And there are many harmonies to be found in wine. One might guess how she divided her trust between nature and nurture, respectively.

Above all, it was the knowledge that she wanted us to preserve — and the passion for the knowledge. Rome had her ten hills, a glut of arable wine land. Here were three. It was knowledge that those proto-Italians had guarded, knowledge of the alchemy of the vine. And that knowledge was procured, shared, stolen so many ages ago. Who knows? It was a knowledge about the essence of things. Even now, I wonder about the importance of that charge placed upon us by this second generation French winemaker.