If I were to sum up my experiences in the vineyards and wineries of France in the late 1960s and early 1970s I would say that they bring me back to times of great challenge, wonderful awakenings and a sense of humility, all of which seem as fresh to me today as if it happened only a week ago.
At the time, I had the naiveté, youth and strength which allowed me to flow along and accept new experiences without being much concerned with where it would all take me. I was an empty vessel soaking in everything and anything which came my way and I was constantly reminded that I was a New World character playing on an Old World stage.
Being an American working in the wine business in France gave me, I think, a unique perspective, at least a very different perspective on the hands-on, everyday life of the European vineyard worker.
I also found myself, many times, filled with interpersonal conflicts and contradictions, contradictions which I recognized and tried to come to grips with — many times without a positive resolution. I found the Old World staid, moribund in tradition and inflexible to the point, many times, of exasperation.
At the same time, maybe in the next moment, I would find myself standing on the parapet of an old chateau or on an ancient Roman wall looking across the dreamy water-colored autumn vineyards to the spires of a church in the next village in amazement and wonderment.
Forty-five years ago, tradition and strict respect of hierarchy, especially of landed gentry by the local, rural paisan, was the absolute rule of the day. Endless generations of village workers had worked for endless generations of landowners and things were not about to change any time soon. Although, for the most part, I was respectful of my patrons, I was never one to venerate the gentry, which at times, I have to admit, vexed some of the more traditional winery owners.
I made it clear to everyone that I was willing to work hard but I also was willing to take home with me every bit of information, trick, traditional viticultural and enological practice I could, and probably made a pest of myself with endless questions both in the vineyards as well as in the wineries.
Studying and working in the vineyards became invaluable to me, more invaluable than I would have imagined, as a wine professional in the United States. I owe much to the patience and kindness of many whom I met along the journey, those many I worked with and those who I worked for.
I found myself caught, absolutely by surprise, (something I was not prepared for) between the generation above me which, almost to a person, was openly grateful for the overwhelming American sacrifices to liberate France during World War ll, and my generation, which saw American involvement in Southeast Asia as a wasteful, sad and a possibly illegal struggle.
I had to balance daily these emotions, which were almost always directed toward me in a personal way. I found out that freedom to move about in Western Europe was hampered by passports, inspections, intrigue, angst and language barriers. I also found out in a very sad, personal manner, that half of Europe was under the boot of the Soviet Union and that lives would never be the same because of this. For an innocent abroad, these were startling realities which made me love my country and my sense of personal freedom while at home like a precious commodity.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns on his adventures as a wine intern in France in 1968, go to www.dailytidings.com/razzano.