Having such an incredible opportunity to observe the entire operation from vine to bottle, I have also had the chance to gain fascinating insight into the people behind the wine, and the supreme effort at every stage that goes into each bottle of Pontet-Canet. I believe you would be rather impressed at the heart behind this operation, which is evident at every turn.
Consistently, the message derived from the people here; (whether it’s the pickers from France or Portugual you speak with or the 20, 30 year full time estate employees whose devotion shows on their face and in their careful actions) the resounding message is consistently the wonderful way they are treated. It is evident that the Tesseron family not only cares deeply about the quality of wine they are producing, but that they value each and every person involved, and the roles they all play. People are made to feel valued here, that is for certain. One French picker told me he’s been picking for this family for 23 years now- he said he would not want to work for anyone else. Many of the Portuguese workers are also people who’ve been here many years in a row, some are husband and wife teams, couples, and others who know a good opportunity when it’s offered.
Yesterday we arranged to photograph the two teams for a group photo as the harvest begins to near completion. Justine drove us to the other location in her car, and we waited a short period of time as the pickers were completing a row of grapes. You could observe even from the interaction that there is always enormous respect for the owners, but that respect goes both ways. In a small but impactful moment for any of us who happened to be observing, she spotted a small, overlooked bunch of grapes on a vine already picked. Justine walked over and crouched down, picked it herself, and carried it over to the waiting containers. The eye on quality and detail is never away. Another bunch of grapes that fell accidentally to the ground, it too was quickly picked up and added to the bins for sorting and processing. No detail overlooked, no grape missed, no job too small and no role is any less important from a quality standpoint! It is my hope in writing this that I help convey to the consumers of this amazing wine the true effort and care that goes into each bottle- or perhaps, in fact, they already know this. Surely this conscientious, loving approach is playing a major part in their success as vintners- you can’t care this deeply about the people in your organization and the product you’re producing without it reflecting in the final outcome itself. That I know. As an artist, I was already impressed with their amazing approach to the photography they want each year. They bring a photographer from a different country each year, so that the resulting images are an individual and new interpretation each time. These photos are in turn used for the following year’s beautifully produced marketing brochures given out to sommeliers, visiting clients, and large dealers. Many photos are displayed throughout the estate, in the beautiful tasting room, and on the walls of the rooms around the property. (If only everyone took this imaginative approach to photography with respect to showcasing the best of their business!) To be given free reign to photograph anywhere on the property, any part of the operation, well, the Tesseron family clearly has total confidence in the integrity of their operation to allow for that! Incredible!
On the way back to the Chateau, we chatted about the Portuguese workers who come every year. I was amazed at the ages of some of them- easily people in their 50s, 60s working the vines all day, along with younger ones. I was told many of them use their vacation time to come here to do this job too, in part because of a repressed economic situation in Portugal, but also for the camaraderie, the teamwork, and the fact that it’s looked at as a fun little vacation from their lives back home. At night after dinner, they celebrate with simple instruments, playing music, dancing, someone playing the accordion- heralding back to simpler times, perhaps. It reminded me again of my time spent living in Sardegna, Italy- where you didn’t need a lot to be entertained, just good times and good people with a common goal- to work hard and be recognized for that work.
At every turn you can find a piece of the legacy here on the Chateau and estate- whether it’s beautifully constructed pillars from the original foundation that have been left, care for, and built around, brick and mortar from the original production area have been restored and fortified, and the resounding message found everywhere in these details is to change very little of tradition, but improve with modern times while still holding fast to what has been done right since the beginning. Truly remarkable!
The harvest is beginning to wind down, and next week after the pickers are gone, I will spend the rest of my final days photographing some of the more static parts of winemaking here; the room storing the hundreds of bottles, the giant barrels aging this fine wine, the full time workers here who oversee each detail hourly, daily. I fee a sense of sadness that it’s passed so quickly for me- and I’ve shot over 7,000 images, video clips and footage so far!
I hope when you’re next in the wine store, you look for this amazing wine from Chateau Pontet Canet to try for yourself. I know firsthand now that the loving care that goes into each bottle sent abroad surely shows up in the quality and taste of this wonderful wine. And I am quite sure that the wonderful Tesseron family of winemakers would not have it any other way!
Thanks for following my journey here, and more to come!