Rough times in the vineyard

My roommate during my stint as a winery worker in Beaujolais in 1968 was a Scotsman who stood well over 6 feet tall, had a flaming red beard and long hair, had graduated in Renaissance art from Oxford and was an undefeated, semi-pro boxer. He was working in the winery program simply to take a break from the stresses of Oxford before accepting a job at a respected museum.

Though the French universally were very kind to us "foreigners" (with some glaring exceptions), I never would have had the temerity of asking such involved questions, and my friendship with Ian really paid off for me.

At the first formal get-together at the winery, we met the staff and the family who owned the chateau. The patriarch was a very proper yet approachable gentleman who had been a soldier in World War I and looked kindly toward the Americans and the British. He thanked us (this was very sobering for me) for coming to France's aid in both world wars. I had never heard anything like this. Not knowing what to say, as you can well imagine, I nodded and mumbled, "You are welcome." I felt proud and not a little uncomfortable at this kindness. His son, however, was another cat.

René, as I'm calling him, told us he expected "hard work" and walked away. Ian and I had been put on notice.

Some of the other students scheduled to work at the winery that season had arrived and we all got along well. During the harvest there were also a few "sketchy" characters around and I kept my eyes peeled. These migrant workers came and went, were paid under the table every day and stared holes into my brain with their eyes. Ian warned me to never turn my back on them.

One afternoon, after lunch, we made our way back into the vineyard to resume our jobs. Picking grapes for days on end is tiring work. The heat was getting to everyone and tempers were up. Personal belongings were missing, and it was clear that the working environment was going to pieces.

A tussle broke out in the vineyard between a seedy older guy and a young boy of perhaps 15. The older man started to really rough the kid up. Ian stood up next to me and watched intently. Finally, he began to step toward the action. The boy's hat fell off. It was then that we discovered the victim was, in fact, a young woman. Ian yelled out, "Well, that will be quite enough of that!"

We surged toward the couple and Ian very easily tossed the man in the air. I then noticed that the two of us were being surrounded and outflanked by four or five friends of the guy who had been tossed.

I am not embarrassed to tell you that I was the largest order of Chicken Delight to have ever landed in France, so I really was not eager, on any level, to get into some sort of physical altercation or land myself into a French jail. But much to my amazement, I felt that this overt violence was inexcusable on every level and that's why I rose to help put a stop to it with my new friend. I simply put myself in danger (with little thought) because it was the correct thing to do.

Also, much to my amazement, I was completely ignored by the men, who went after Ian with some intent. I suspect they wanted to take out the real threat and deal with Mr. C.D. at their leisure.

One after another they came at Ian with these almost slow-motion, roundhouse swings directed at his face. I watched with complete astonishment as he went inside every swing and popped three combination shots to every attacker, who then crumpled like a Raggedy Andy doll into the dirt. It was "whomp, whomp, whomp," and then complete silence.

It was all over in about 30 seconds or less.

In the distance I saw the owner's car speeding up the path between the vineyards, and I suspected that my tenure was about to end before it had begun.

To be continued ...

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

Share This Story