At work in the winery

I was lying on my cot in the men's wing of a winery/chateau in Beaujolais, France. It was 1968 and I had signed up for a work-study program that would involve my participation in a handful of wineries throughout France. I was to observe and participate in all aspects of the winery scene — viticultural, enological, cellar work and selling.

I was startled from my nap by one of the largest human beings I had ever set my eyes on. He was a towering man with a flaming red beard and long hair and spoke to me in barely recognizable English. His name was Ian and he was from Glasgow. He was assigned as my roommate most probably because we spoke (well, almost) the same language. He had come to the wine scene in France because he had "burned out" and was trying to "decompress."

He told me that he "loved" wine and felt that it was time for him to get a better grip on the "scene." This was Ian's third vacation to work in wineries from his university studies in five years. I was to encounter many young people like Ian in France who took "breaks" from school to work in wineries. Also, because it was harvest time, seasonal workers would appear and disappear almost as apparitions in the vineyards as well as in the cellars.

Ian warned me very quickly to "stash" my money or other "valuables" as well as passport either on my person or in the winery safe. Well, there went any romantic notion of gentle, rolling vineyards in idyllic France.

Ian and I reported a week early for our work-study. We had received almost identical letters, both with the wrong dates printed on the forms. This was most likely the reason I was almost dismissed by the woman in the office when I arrived. The next morning we ate with the staff, then were assigned tasks by the foreman of the winery. My assignment was to clean every bathroom in the chateau; this included every toilet, bathtub, shower and sink as well as mopping every floor in every bathroom. Ian's job was to clean the chicken coops, the pig sties, the motor pool and to weed the large garden. During our lunch break we compared the jobs and agreed that winery worker life was not the "enriching" life we thought it was going to be.

In the evening we walked to a wonderful bistro in town and drank copious amounts of soft red wine with our meal.

It turned out (I would later meet Ian's sister and she would confirm all of this) that Ian had just finished his advanced degree from the University of Oxford in Renaissance art with an emphasis in tapestries. Ian was also a very accomplished boxer and had graduated from amateur status to semi-professional recently. This was all before the beard, long hair and knapsack. He had been offered a few "very plum" museum assignments but had deferred the commitment for at least a year. He had, he told me, found a new "passion" in wine and was eager to "immerse" himself in the subject as he had in his studies at Oxford as well as boxing. I will admit to you that he was about four years older than I was and I felt, that compared to me, Ian had lived a lifetime in his short years.

We began to laugh at the menial jobs which we were given and did our best to befriend the foreman of the winery, who, after the week, actually began to hang with us after work. Ian grilled him about Beaujolais, the tending of the vines and a unique fermentation process called, "carbonic maceration." I learned a great deal, more than I would have on my own, by hanging with this very bright and inquisitive Scotsman.

The other students and workers arrived on Sunday and we were introduced to the entire winery staff in a formal meeting over lunch. The son of the owner took an instant dislike to almost all of the "foreign" workers. It was also clear at this luncheon that the man was drunk. Ian explicitly warned me to "stay well away" from the man as best I could and to "mind" my own business. Within a week all hell would break loose.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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