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FALL 2011
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A Letter Home from a French Winery

by Erica Hooker ’13

Every morning I am excited to start the day. I make my coffee, black, and toast a piece of fresh baguette from the night before. I touch up on some survival French sentences and head for the door. At 6:30 the sun is just breaking the horizon and I have a half-mile walk to the garage of the vineyard where I get my assignments for the day. It’s rarely rainy here, so I can always see the last traces of stars in the dusty blue sky and watch as it blends with sherbet shades of pink and orange where the sun meets the rise of vineyards. The air is cool and crisp and the dew on the grass splashes my legs as I jog lightly across the lawn to the dirt road ahead. I cross over it in favor of the grassy lanes between rows of grapes and take the back way to work, winding through vines. It’s a glorious start to the day.

I am a junior in International Agriculture and Rural Development and Communication at Cornell, but when the opportunity came up in a CALS exchange program to intern at a vineyard in France and take viticulture classes, I couldn’t pass it up. I arrived in France at the end of May to start my studies in Toulouse, a city in the south of the country. There, I took French and viticulture and enology classes with other American students from different universities. We traveled as a group on weekends, exploring Barcelona, Spain, one weekend and hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains the next. For class, we also visited several vineyards and dairy farms. It was a good foundation for the following months when I would start my internship and prepare for more intensive viticulture studies.

Before really settling down, I had a whirlwind three-week study tour with a Master Vintage program from Angers, France. The itinerary was one week in Italy, one week in Romania, and one week in Greece. In each country, we traveled by bus, spending every night in a different hotel and touring two to three wineries a day.

Although we were there to study wines and different vineyard systems, I found myself fascinated by the culture of the countries. In hilly northern Italy I could have stayed forever eating Margherita pizza and wandering cobblestone streets that wound up hillsides to stunning valley views. In rural Romania I never wanted to stop dancing the polka with farmers and their wives. In sunny Greece I would have liked to have learned how to drive a moped as fast as the locals and sink my toes in the warm sand every day.

By the end of July, I was back in France and moving to the Bordeaux region for a five-month internship at Chateau La Garde, with a three-week hiatus in October and again in November for taking classes at universities in Lyon and Angers, cities in central eastern and western France. The days at the vineyard are long, with work from 7:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, but always rewarding. Every day is different. If it is sunny and the ground is dry, I pull out the tractor and mow the grass between the rows. If it is raining I might be manually pruning vines or hoeing underneath the grapes to keep the weeds at bay. Other days I check our butterfly houses for signs of infestation or disease. If it is the end of August or September, we abandon all else for long days in the cellar sorting grapes and readying the tanks for harvest.

Europe is vibrant. Its soul lies in the history of the villages and fierce nationalism of the people in every country. France is incredibly varied. With the cold beaches of Normandy to the north, Paris pulsing in the center, the Alps towering over the east, the beautiful ocean coast of the south leading westward to the Pyrenees Mountains, and the wine country of majestic, old chateaus in Bordeaux, few places have captivated my sense of adventure so much.

I go back to Cornell to finish my junior year at the beginning of January. Until then, there are vines to be pruned, rows to be mowed, papers to be written, and sunrises to watch.

—Erika Hooker ’13

 


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Follow along with Erica on her travel blog