I woke on my 20th birthday on a beach in Perpignan in the South of France, back in the days when it was deemed safe enough to throw a ruc-sac over your shoulder & disappear around Europe for a few months. Unfortunately, the said ruc-sac that I’d been using as a pillow was missing, along with most of my belongings. In hindsight maybe it wasn’t quite that safe after all.
Luckily I had the good sense to sleep with my passport & what little cash I had in the bottom of my sleeping bag. They were still there and as a small bonus, I still had the clothes on my back that I’d been sleeping in.
Earlier that summer I had secured a job picking grapes in a small town called Montagne, near Bordeaux, but the ‘vendage’ or harvest, didn’t start until the first week of October, so I had three weeks to kill on a budget of about 10 francs a day (one old Irish Punt).
After a week of living in and around Narbonne train station I grew tired of being moved along by the Gendarmerie & eating leftovers from other peoples plates in the self service restaurant so I decided to head to Montagne to see if I could do any odd jobs around the vineyard before the Vendage started.
Montagne is situated next to the famous and picturesque village of St. Emillian where I had been interviewed previously by the Mayor of the town Mssr. Despagne, who owned his own vineyard called Maison Blanche. So off I trekked to the slightly imposing Maison Blanche to call into the Mayor and appeal for a bit of work and accommodation prior to the start of the vendage.
I’m not sure if I caught him on a good day, or if he felt sorry for me after hearing my sob story, but I was welcomed into the Chateau itself and spent the next few days cleaning & painting the dormitories in preparation for the pending arrival of the throngs of seasonal workers.
Once the vendage started we worked long, hard days in the autumn sunshine, rewarded by 100 francs a day, full board and as much vin de table as we could drink. Life felt pretty good, but like all good things it soon came to an end. However, I had begun an intrinsic & unwavering relationship with the vine.
One of the great benefits of working in the restaurant industry is the many opportunities to sample & appreciate a wide and varied selection of wines. I have developed relationships with a number of good wine suppliers, one that perhaps stands out is with The Wine Buff, a small Irish chain of ‘Wine Shops’, as opposed to off licences.
When I first met representatives from the company a couple of years ago I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only do they do their purchasing direct from family run vineyards, but that they were familiar with & had done business with the Despagne family in Montagne.
We have just launched a joint venture with The Wine Buff whereby they will now look after the retail wine section in Novello, bringing you wines direct from the vineyard or as they’re company statement declares “bringing you extraordinary wine at ordinary prices”. You will not find your Blossom Hill’s or your Jacob’s Creeks, but what you will find is a selection of wines of real character & authenticity from vineyards too small-scale (or too interesting) for supermarkets & big brand buyers.
To find out more about The Wine Buff check out their web page www.thewinebuff.ie