Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taste, Tour and Tube

I attend a year-round school. In some ways, that is absolutely great. I finish earlier than others (a 22-month program instead of 24 months). However, my summer is but 4 weeks long, and I get 2 weeks off at Christmas. It's almost like a real job! Thankfully, our school gives us random days off once a month. Well, I'm almost thankful.

The thing about weekends here is that they can be terribly boring. Living in a small town means that there is not much to do. Which leads a lot of people here to partying and generally getting in a little bit of trouble. My friends and I go see a lot of movies, I read a LOT of books, and spend time laying around when it gets cold outside.

On the off-chance that I've got a little bit of pocket money and a ride, I do get around!

On Sunday, one of the clubs on campus (Chaines des Rotisseurs) was getting together to do a tour and tasting at a local vineyard/winery. A few of us decided to check it out, even though we are bakers! I am so glad that we went. Most of the other attendees had taken the wines class here (available only to the cookers - boo) so we were out of the loop. I definitely learned that there is a LOT I do not know about wine!

Benmarl is the name of the place and it is located in Marlborough. It was THE HOTTEST day yet here, to the point where we were just sweating buckets even standing in the shade. Wow. I was really impressed because the owner of the winery gave us the tour himself! He is a fairly young guy, a 30-something, who bought the place out in 2006.

They produce approximately 3400 cases a year which is small. I was surprised to learn that only 3 people work there full-time, and most of the part-timers work the tasting bar. That leaves the owner and two others to do all the cultivating! Amazing. In October they let people come and crush the grapes! Maybe we will try that out?

We got to see the room where they ferment the grapes, as well as the barrel room:

and the bottling room. They used to do it by hand! It took 4 people to complete the process and they could manage at best 6 bottles per minute. They recently bought a small bottling machine (which must look sooo cool when it's going!) that can do the whole process (rinse, fill, top off, and cork) and does 24 bottles a minute, using only two people! That is awesome.

Then they have a label machine and a hot press to put the seal on the top.

We got to taste about 5 or 6 different wines (small portions of course) and nothing really appealed to me.

When it comes to wine, I either like it, or I don't. At this point, I don't have the palate to appreciate all the various nuances. Someday, hopefully, I will. This visit definitely inspired me to read some books about wine and maybe do some more tastings soon.

Their front lobby is covered with all kinds of vintage labels like these.

The scene there was very picturesque, so my friends and I had a lot of fun taking pictures and looking around. I'm sure it looks AMAZING when Autumn rolls around and the leaves turn.

Monday was our random day off, and our student recreation center had offered a tubing package! It was about $10 cheaper than going on our own, so a bunch of friends and I signed up and went! We rode an hour north on a bus to the small town of Phoenicia, got hooked up with our tubes and life jackets, and had another bus take us up the river about 5 miles.

Our estimated "ride" time was just under 2 hours. I have no idea how long it actually took because I didn't wear a watch, but it felt long! We had some pointers about how to sit in the tube and some safety advice. We were required to wear shoes and the life jackets. It has been incredibly hot and humid here, so a dip in the cold river felt sooo nice! The tubes were huge black ones, very sturdy, and had a wooden part in the middle for the seat. I was glad for that! Without it, I would have snagged my bum on a LOT of rocks!

We thought it was going to be this lovely, lazy, relaxing float, twirling in our tubes, splashing and having a good time. It was anything but relaxing! The current moved quite fast and although we'd tried linking together and holding onto each others' handles, we could never stay together for more than a few minutes. Rocks would separate us and we'd catch different currents. It was a little like rafting but not super intense. I definitely had to be alert and pay attention 90% of the time. It was fun though! I flipped out of the tube once after going backwards over a rock, but it was slow and I sort of rolled out of it, so no harm done.

About 3/4 of the way through, one of our girls got seriously hurt, bashing her back and knee into some rocks. She basically rode the rapids without her tube. So she was hurt and crying and we were all worried. There were some local people playing around in the river at that point, and they advised us that it would be easier to float her down the rest of the way than to try and carry her/hike her up the hill to the road. It was 30 more minutes and we had to do it carefully (knees are tricky!) but we made it. She ended up going to the ER later and will definitely have a pretty bruise around her knee. I'm glad nothing more serious happened because we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Well, back to the school week . . .

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