After all that foie gras, I needed a glass of wine. Peut- être a bottle. Hell, how about a whole vineyard so I could just soak in a bath of full bodied red? Over a decade ago, Amy Lillard and Matt Kling left the U.S., resettled near Pont du Gard and built a twelve-acre, organic and biodynamic vineyard, La Gramière, to compete with French winemakers. I get to be their stagiaire, or intern, for the next week and a half.
Two years ago, they created a roving wine bar made from a converted horse trailer – the first “wine truck” in France. They attend summer night markets and host events in their vineyard, selling Amy’s famous focaccia bread and wine by the glass. Just recently, they purchased an old blacksmith forge and adjacent olive oil mill, which they’re restoring into a new winery and wine and tapas bar.
I arrive just in time to help with the transformation of the winery; Matt doesn’t waste a minute asking if I know how to use a socket wrench. In preparation for the upcoming harvest, I scrub red wine stains off concrete tanks, repaint the grape press a pastel mint green, and pressure wash the inside of the cuves, or tanks. Cuves are not built to host humans; I feel like a contortionist, angling my body to slip through the elf-sized door. My internship is a lesson in handywoman work just as much as it is a lesson in how to grow a perfectly plump Syrah grape.
Throughout the week, Amy is running off to host wine tastings for vacationing couples and groups of touring cyclists. I’m pleasantly surprised to discover wine tasting is free in France. There’s no $12 (or $60) tasting fee, which you’d be charged in Napa. The French are serious about their wine: they taste to purchase bottles, not fill their afternoon with activity, like a bus full of Santa-Barbara-bound gaggling bridesmaids looking for something to do (guilty as charged).
The winemaking process at La Gramière is more grueling than at other wineries because Matt and Amy take great care to avoid using chemicals, unnecessary machinery, or any other shortcut that could either compromise the quality of their wines or have a negative impact on the environment.
La Gramière is one of the few vineyards in the area with handpicked grapes – other vineyards use machines that traverse each row of vines, batting the grapes off their stems. To increase the yield, many local winemakers farm with pesticides, even though buying the chemicals increases their expenses. But Matt and Amy focus on small batches (about 10,000 bottles a year) and don’t waste their money.
They’ve also chosen wine bottles made of thinner glass. This reduces not only the amount of material required, but also the additional fuel needed to ship a pallet across the ocean. And instead of a labeling machine, Amy employs the professionally-trained fingers of her sweet parents Joe and Cindy, who affix each label by hand. We spend a few days together labeling and boxing fifty cases of wine (600 bottles), which will be shipped to Germany, Seattle, and New York. After a long day of carpal-tunnel-inducing activity, Cindy announces that it’s 5 p.m. in Turkey (and 4 p.m. in France), so it’s time to crack open a cold bottle of sparkling rosé. I like this lady already.
One of La Gramière’s signature wines is “truck wine,” or, as an Arizona wine-tasting couple recently renamed it, “pool wine.” Amy characterizes the blend of Syrah and rosé as “cheap and cheerful.” It’s a light, fruity red, served cold, that’s perfect on a hot summer night (or sipped from a curly straw while relaxing on your pool floatie). The composition of La Gramière’s truck wine changes every year, but I have no doubt that each summer the deliciousness of this wine will run Matt and Amy’s truck dry.