The weight-lifting phrase épaulé jeté, in English ‘clean and jerk’, or more literally in French, ‘shouldered-throw’, became immortalised in the oenological sense by the illustrator Michel Tolbert whose iconic posters for Catherine & Pierre Breton’s Bourgeiul and Chinon estate are now replicated in wine bars across the world.
In weight-lifting, after raising the barbell to the shoulders, the lifter jerks it overhead to arm’s length. In wine-drinking, a drinker lifts the glass then polishes it off in one fell swoop. Cul sec, as the French might say, or ‘down in one’.
In wine-making, épaulé jeté might refer to our cellar team’s superhero ability to raise a whole barrique above their head, or the sterling work that our porteurs do raising treasure chests of grapes over their shoulder and into the back of the tractor to see them safely on their way.
Good wine is made by bodies. They forge and form each step of the process. They gather, carry, lift and sort grapes. They gently turn barrels and bottles. They light candles, tip lees, split wood. And then they taste-test their way to perfect blends.
Here, our vignerons let their bodies speak for themselves.
LONG DAI : The Terracing Tricep-buster
Longdai Vineyard Manager YeKun is helping us to construct one of several low walls, which will protect the vineyards from erosion. Lifting and carefully placing stones all day is certainly a workout! He says :
«We have about 5-6 people working, with two tractors to transport the rocks. The wall is about 2 m high, and we construct about 50 metres – or 200 m³ – every day! When you’re moving the stones, it’s your back and arms that get the most tired… but I’m not afraid of hard work – no problem for me! You have to look at the stone carefully, to find the right face before placing it… you have to think about placing the slope towards the embankment. If you look carefully you can find fossils in the granite, sea creatures and shells, that used to live where we’re standing now».
PSA: Remember when lifting, straight backs all round!
Aussières: Pitchfork Pose
For the Altan wine at Aussieres, we use a process called Carbonic Maceration, which means putting whole bunches of grapes in anaerobic conditions so that fermentation takes place separately inside the barrels. There are more grapes in a Carbonic Maceration vat, and the bunches get bound together – while traditional methods use a shovel, Carbonic Maceration means using a fork to extract the interlocked bunches, making it a longer and tougher job.
Says Cédric Mouysset, assistant Cellar Master at Aussieres :
«Someone who’s motivated and in good shape can do two traditional vats per day – but two Carbonic Maceration vats would make them a REAL sport!».
How do they keep up morale?
«Chocolate. Especially at the weekends. But it’s also essential to warm up as the day goes on, to change shifts and avoid too much repetitive movement… and to take coffee breaks!».
Château L’Evangile: Stirring (and rolling) the Cauldron
Cellar Master Abboud Charbel oversees a ‘micro-vinification’ operation at Château L’Evangile, using smaller containers (barrels) to ferment separate sections from within individual parcels. Barrels are opened, filled with grapes, and cooled with CO2 to allow cold maceration – avoiding any risk of oxidation. Twice a day, the grapes are pressed down into the barrel, and rolled by hand, until alcoholic fermentation ends and the contents are removed.
Where do the heroic micro-vinif masters feel it most? «Firstly, in the trapezius muscles and arms – especially when hitting the hoops to loosen them – and the abdominals and back, from rolling the barrels. We roll around 8 times on one side, and 8 on the other… twice a day».
Hard work? «Yes, even an empty barrel weighs about 40kg! But I love working this way. And I like training people in it too – the ones who get a taste for it realise they have muscles they never knew existed!».
Rieussec: The Botrytis Back-Bend
Harvesting at Rieussec is a different beast. Specifically, it’s a beast that demands you keep your head in the game – and your back strong and supple. In Sauternes-making, you never know when a harvest will begin or end – occasionally, it’s been known to start in August and finish in November!
Plus, says Mathieu Crosnier, Rieussec’s operations manager, «It’s not just a question of picking all the bunches – you have to select them, sometimes pieces of them, that have the right maturity and quality of botrytis».
How do vignerons stay limber? «The pickers are bent over all day, so a good warm-up is essential – we do one together at the start of each day, with special attention on the back».
But, asked which part of the body is most involved, Crosnier gave an interesting answer: «The head! It’s the same for all of us – always thinking – which grapes to choose, what decisions to make at what time, when to begin and when to wait. You have to keep a clear, sharp mind. And sleep!».
Duhart : Barrelmaker’s Bicepmaker
In the tonnellerie at Château Duhart-Milon, our coopers perform multiple processes every day (working nearly every muscle group, one might add) to craft our Lafite barrels from scratch. Applying the steel truss hoops to the barrels may look like a simple task, but the cooper has to strike the metal repeatedly with his hammer to force it into the shape of the barrel, and it takes some strength. Repetitive action works particular areas of muscle again and again, in this case the bicep, leading to the infamous phenomenon of the ‘cooper’s arm’.
Says our Cooper Jean-Pierre Sanchez, «We work the wood, step by step, by hand. It requires many different stages, and it’s a very physical job – mostly in the arms, but we use the whole body».
Bodegas CARO: The CARO Carrier
At Bodegas CARO, our vignerons do the extra-heroic work of carrying their own harvest hauls to the transport tractors, sans porter. What’s the difference? An extra 20 kg’s-worth of grape-grasping muscle needed to lift the crates overhead (or at least over-shoulder) when they’re full.
Says Vigneron Javier Garcia, «You need physical strength and stamina to harvest – the days are long and intense, on your knees and then lifting the crates, carrying them quickly to the end of the row to be emptied – from the first ray of sunshine until late afternoon! Mostly you feel it in the shoulders and the waist, your shoulders are bearing the weight of the crate».
Does this mean a good long stretch before work? «Not for me, but I start quietly, gently, until my muscles warm up and I can start working a bit harder. That’s my advice to anyone new – start slowly, and your body will adjust. Oh, and lift crates firmly and swiftly, in one go, to avoid straining a muscle!».
Viña Los Vascos: The Shearing Shakedown
At Viña Los Vascos, our resident flock of sheep are an essential part of life on the estate. Come spring in the southern hemisphere, it’s time to remove their winter coats!
Our expert shearers know the safest, securest way to do this – for both sheep and humans. And our Farm Supervisor, Cesar Pineda, has been working at Los Vascos for 28 years – there’s no one on earth who knows more about our animals, from cattle to sheep to horses, to the alfalfa and oats we plant for their feed.
He says «one of the tasks that demands the most strength is shearing – we have to catch each sheep one by one. There are some big ones, especially the rams – so it’s important to do it right or you might well get a kick in the face. And your arms will get sore, they’re strong animals; the next day is time for light work, nothing too strenuous».