Lifestyle : This Postman always beeps twice
Audio version : www.lesun.fr/AUDIO/postman.mp3
To any ardent Francophile the sound and the look are immediately recognizable; a bright yellow scooter and the special 'beep beep' it makes, means the mail has arrived.
by Joe McLean
Here, in Saint- Quentin-la-Poterie, a small, typical provençal village not far from the renowned Pont du Gard, the regular postman, Serge Scherrer, ﬁnishes his rounds by 1 pm. After a quick bite to eat, he’s back on the road minus his postal attire to deliver something way more palatable than a Visa statement. For Serge is perhaps the only full time postman- wine maker in France.
This droll, wiry 49-year-old grew up a stones throw from the great vineyards of Alsace. In his teens he dreamed of making his own wine and even took a viticulture course at a local college. The problem though, was that vineyard land in Alsace was scarce and very expensive and Serge had neither the right family connections nor loads of money to start a winery. So when a job came up at the local post ofﬁce, Serge applied and got in. Within a few years he was married and by the late ‘90s he and his wife Lucile had two small boys to support. The wine making dream started to look more and more like the pipe variety.
Fast-forward to 2000
Serge and his young family were transferred to Uzès, the tourist mecca northwest of Avignon. Uzège, as the surrounding area is called, is bordered by prestigious appellations like the Côtes du Rhône and the wines of Languedoc to the west. Within a few years of his arrival, the viticultural crisis took hold; land prices started falling dramatically and Serge saw an opportunity.
Starting in 2003 he began the hunt for a small parcel of top quality vines. By 2007 he found what he was after: a prime, half-hectare plot of old vine Grenache and Cinsault not far from Uzès. After a tense period of negotiation, the deal closed in late April of the same year.
The dream was back on track.
Agarrus, the name Serge chose for his domain, comes from the provençal word for the small kermes oaks that grow all over the dry hillsides of southern France. The ﬁrst two vintages produced a small amount of concentrated, intense wine. But, wanting to paint with a bigger palate, Serge added three more parcels of Syrah,more parcels of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache to the mix in 2009. Today, with 4.5 hectares that’s all farmed organically, Serge has his hands very full indeed. It’s amazing to see how far passion, determination and vision can carry a man. But he readily admits he couldn’t make it all work without his wife Lucile’s full support.
This year he ﬁgures he’ll make almost 15,000 bottles, most of it red. The wines are uniformly good to very good and have a real sense of terroir. And since he’s not in a prestigious appellation, the prices are reasonable. He sells a quarter of his production locally and expects to be distributed in Germany and Switzerland soon. The high point each year for Serge has to be les vendanges-the harvest. His many friends offer to help and in spite of the hard work and the long hours everyone has a great time.
Defences and stress fall away, laughter is king and everyone seems to get along. Around 1 pm the loud call, à table, summons the team to lunch, a time to unwind, drink a bit of wine or beer and kibbutz with co-workers. Lucile prepares the delicious home-cooked food and an hour later everyone is ready to get back to work, refreshed and energized. This traditional part of French culture is slowly dying off, a victim of harvesting machines and increased costs. Here in the south, only the smaller, quality oriented domains harvest by hand. For Serge, who has to make it on the excellence of his wines, it’s an essential ingredient.
This same attention to detail carries over to the winery where Serge invested two years ago in a nearly new pneumatic press and seven stainless steel tanks with full temperature control. He admits, though, that he is still He admits, though, that he is still learning and dealing with the odd moment of panic–like the terrible grinding his pump made, until someone realized it had to be primed with water to work–but they’re becoming rarer.
By the end of a week of harvesting, Serge seems of a week of harvesting, Serge seems pleased. His intense, focused eye of earlier in the week has softened to a wide, albeit tired smile. The grapes are perfectly ripe, he says, with good deep colour. The potential is there to make some great wines. Soon the facteur will go back to his scooter and his daily rounds. His team of sore and tired pickers clean and put away their shears till next year. They’re proud to have contributed a small bit to Serge’s amazing adventure. And they look forward to hearing that familiar 'beep, beep' from the postman that 'beep, beep' from thedelivers much more than the mail.
This traditional part of French culture is slowly dying off, a victim of harvesting machines and increased costs. Here in the south, only the smaller, quality oriented domains harvest by hand.
Joe McLean is CEO of Promo Vinum, a wine tourism and communications agency based near Uzès. He helps wineries and agri-business companies create itineraries, special events and marketing that bring customers in the door. He also offers a range of fun wine and food tasting classes for those who want to learn more about the art of matching wine with food.
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The sun is out, bank holidays are in, we all want to go and explore, although this can sometimes be ruined by the dreaded mistral (p14). But let’s not spoil things. How about a visit to St Jean du Fos (p20) or if you’re feeling more urban, a nice shopping day in Avignon with a healthy tea break (p23) or a visit to an art gallery in Nîmes? (p17) If you’re feeling extra energetic like me, how about entering the Pont du Gard race on 30 June to raise money for a fantastic local charity? Also in this issue, the remarkable story of a simulated space mission by Claire (p18) and a very funny article by Bernice on her pathological inability (or so she says) to learn languages (p22).