This post comes to us from Grenoble alumna and current API Marketing intern, Amanda McEnroe. Amanda studied in Grenoble from Oklahoma State University for the ’16-’17 academic year.
Each semester, API organizes a community service project and it is always different depending on location. For instance, past students have served their community by participating in beach beautification projects in Italy or painting local orphanages. Our community service project was especially interesting because it was very specific to France and opened me up to a part of French culture that I might not have explored otherwise: viticulture.
This spring we were able to work on a vineyard alongside the local Rotary club, and then the earnings for our labor were donated to a charity. We carpooled with the Rotary Club members and the couple that I rode with were Grenoble natives. They knew all the neighborhoods and mountains as well as a handful of random facts about them. The couple had traveled to do a road-trip across the US so we all got a kick out of telling them where we lived, using the basic French constantly used in class as we get to know all of our international classmates. We played twenty questions with them about their favorite place in the states and their experience, and they reciprocated by asking us the same about their adored country.
They gave us a tour of the area and explained that their club had been going to the vineyard for years, to in turn donate the money. The event was called, “Tirer les bois” which translates to, “Pulling the wood”. I thought I understood what that meant by the simple translation, but as we pulled up to the vineyard I saw the endless rows of vines and wire, I realized I didn’t know what we’d be doing at all.
We were greeted by the owner of the vineyard himself, Pascal Perceval. We, the API students and the rotary club, worked alongside a few of employees who instructed us how to rip the vine from the wire supports. Basically, the vines accumulate canes that have broken off from the rooted vine, but are still woven around the wires. The goal: yank the canes free from the wires in preparation for the new season. They provided us with gloves and scissors to help cut away the canes. I soon realized they gave us the scissors as a courtesy because the scissors were superfluous if you yanked as hard as the workers did. When we first started, I was gently tugging on the branches and neatly stacking them in the grass in between rows. I turned to see one of the French workers ripping the branches and chunking it into a pile. He was halfway done with his row by the time I had plucked and stacked two canes… We quickly started adapting to the task at-hand and worked as the Frenchman did. As we worked, we got to know the Rotary members and employees working nearby through casual conversation (which is always good practice for French).
Halfway through working, the workers came around with wine for us to taste which was a welcomed break. After working and chatting for a few hours, we took a break for lunch. We had a typical French picnic all together. It reminded me of a Thanksgiving feast: the food, the good company, and vivacious laughter.
Once we finished, the vineyard owner, Pascal, offered to take us over to the château, Château de la Gentilhommière. This is the place where wine is stored in the classic big, labeled barrels waiting to be sold.
*FUN FACT: The wine is called Vin des Glaces (Ice Wine) because the grapes are frozen at the top of one of the French Alps, Mont-Blanc. Feel free to watch the incredible process here: https://vimeo.com/212230047
Overall, it felt more like we were receiving than we were giving. We rode home in a calm silence. I was sure everyone was thinking the same thing that I was: this breathtaking place, surrounded by mountains and good company…was my home. I had to take advantage of France for as long as I was able to live out the fantasy.