Woman of mystery

My friend and coworker Ian had rustled up a quick job for the two of us picking grapes on our return journey from the coast of France to Beaujolais, where I worked as a winery intern in 1968.

The deal was three days of picking in exchange for meals, a roof and a few francs. So, without asking my opinion on the matter, Ian had shanghaied me into some very grueling, fast-paced work.

I thought of the time frame and our obligation to be in Paris to submit documents and supply orders for Mr. Chagny, a popular bootlegger and interim overseer of my work-study program in France. I made a call to Beaujolais. I was delighted that Mr. Chagny was understanding, saying he needed the paperwork dropped off by the middle of the next week. He ordered me to have fun and to return to Beaujolais safely. He also told me he would set up a "good time" for me while I was in Paris.

After an exhausting day of picking grapes and cleaning up at a communal shower outside, we joined the rest of the workers, the foreman, the owner and his wife for dinner in a very large room within the winery. The owners turned out to be gracious people and wonderful employers.

When I introduced myself to them and mentioned I was in the employ of Mr. Chagny, the owner and his wife told me how much they liked all of the Chagnys and how much (with a sly wink) they enjoyed his "products." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was everyone in France a friend of the Chagnys? Whenever I dropped the name, I was an immediate insider.

I sat down, still incredulous at the power of the Chagny connection, when I looked across the room at what had to be the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was sitting alone, eating. I pointed her out to Ian and he nodded, appreciatively. He told me he had been watching her and that every man in the room had come up to her and spoken to her, only to be politely dismissed. We were obviously intrigued as to who she was and what she was doing there.

I told Ian that she looked like the movie star Kathryn Deneuve. He told me that I was "flat out crazy" and that she was a "dead ringer" for Grace Kelly. Like two adolescent knuckleheads, we argued over who she looked like and what she was doing at a winery in this out-of-the-way village. We were just like every other man at the winery: flat out taken with her.

At the end of the meal, the owner of the winery came up to her. I watched her stand to greet him in what looked like an old-world, almost imperceptible courtesy. He shook her hand before he left her table. Before long, she slipped away from the hall and vanished.

The next morning was cold. In the great room we ate breakfast silently as the foreman read out vineyard and winery assignments. We were broken into teams, vineyard sites and van assignments. Probably because I was so slow in the vineyard, I was assigned to load one of the vans. When I got to my assigned van, I looked in and saw, to my astonishment, this beautiful, mysterious woman sitting behind the wheel.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part-time. Reach him at razz49@aol.com. To read previous columns on his adventures as a winery intern in France in 1968, visit www.dailytidings.com/razzano.

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