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Who you know, the vino you get

 Posted: 2:00 AM September 11, 2012

I had been at the Gathering of nearly 500 Bacchanal-happy Scots on the coast of France for just 15 minutes before I was whisked away onto a flatbed truck bound for a winery cooperative. Though I was but a lad working in a winery intern program during that fall of 1968, I had been chosen to negotiate the purchase of wine for the entire festival.

We headed north on the coastal highway, leaving vast fields of tents, sleeping bags, vehicles and makeshift storefronts behind.

The Gathering had been two years in the planning and featured all manner of Medieval costumes, tartans, jugglers, face painters, tarot readers and groups of musicians interspersed between bonfires.

My friend and co-worker Ian, whom I'd driven across France on motorcycle to meet, told me we were going to a winery cooperative not far from the Gathering. Something had gone amiss in negotiations for the wine, and the manager of the cooperative was "stonewalling" Ian and telling him different prices for the same product every time Ian had met with him.

As this was their fourth attempt to buy wine in bulk for the Gathering, the Scots in the truck were on the verge of "appropriating" the wine with a "few mates" from the Gathering and let the chips fall where they may.

My mind raced, thinking of what might happen and why I was chosen as the spokesman for the bulk wine sale. Had I arrived 20 minutes later, the flatbed would have left without me, and I would have danced into the Gathering without a care in the world.

We went down a one-car hedgerow lane. The driver, William, announced rather briskly (to no one in particular) that whoever was driving up the lane would have to pull over and let him pass. He was in "nooo" mood to negotiate driving or anything else. He said he was not "goon" to pull over for any "snaky" Frenchman. Well, OK. This was "goon" to make any attempts to negotiate for wine so, so much easier.

We arrived at a well-kept building where folks were bringing in empty jugs and demijohns from their cars and bringing them back out full of wine. I suspected that this cooperative was not unlike the one for which I had worked in Paris, except this was a "drive-up" sort of an operation.

Once inside, I saw this was not a winery at all but a storage point for wine in barrels and in concrete holding tanks, which were common in France in those days.

I had no idea what had taken place with Ian and the others, but my reception with the manager was frosty, verging on polar. I had a pouch William had told me contained "thousands" of francs.

To this day, I have no idea why this manager was so cold, almost belligerent with the Scots, but I left them and the past at the door and approached him alone. I told the manager (one brief flirt with genius) that I was employed by the Chagny brothers — for whom I'd made deliveries of moonshine brandy — on "behalf of the Scots."

The manager blinked three times and nodded. Oh, yes, he certainly did know them both! That was all that it took. We loaded, by ramp, 10 barrels of C+ level red wine, enough for the Gathering's duration, at bargain prices.

Astonished, the Scots babbled all the way back, calling me a "bloody miracle worker."

The Gathering was so pleased that when we arrived, a group of about 10 enormous men picked me up, carried me across the roadway and tossed me very happily into the ocean.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part-time. Reach him at razz49@aol.com. For previous columns on his adventures as a wine intern in France, go to www.dailytidings.com/razzano.


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