We finished harvest on a Thursday morning with a team of 14. Five weeks of work came to a close a day early, much to our surprise and delight.
By the time we sat down for breakfast on the final day, in the final field, all the grapes had been trucked back to the cellar. We overturned the empty crates, making the usual circle for breakfast. Aline yelled, "À table!" to the last of us rounding up buckets and clippers. We all found our seats. Aline applauded us; we all cheered. I could see the stress melt off of her. Her shoulders loosened, her back straightened, the smile on her face was genuine instead of strained. All the organization, the early mornings, the late nights, it had all been conducted by this one woman who cares so much for the vines she cultivates.
We shared the usual breakfast, and then went back to the cellar to do the usual chores--organizing the grapes, cleaning the cases, pressure spraying the cellar floors. The final lunch was just as large and overly filling as they had been all month, but the sense of completion layered on top of that was palpable.
The days opened up right in front of me. I had another two and a half weeks left in France before my scheduled flight home. What would I be doing?
The answer came quickly, and it started with 11am wine tastings at the neighbors cellar the next day. Aline took other WWOOFers to tour the local potters, of which there were two. It was an oddly gendered outing, only the women went (sans moi due to a need for some solitude) and they returned laden with bowls, mugs, and serving dishes. One Flemish woman must have dropped over 200 euros judging by the number and size of the bowls she brought back to the house.
On one such Friday of being free from the fields, my fellow WWOOFers and I crammed in two wine tastings into one afternoon, and followed it up with a grand End-of-Harvest house party. Aline invited all the neighbors. It was the usual 70s and 80s playlist, as Aline had thrown a few parties throughout the season by then. A young couple made and prepared homemade pizzas throughout the night. The second one came out of the oven, it was walked around the living room and patio in a single circuit, getting completely picked over before the cutting board returned to the kitchen. The German WWOOFer turned 34 at midnight. Another friend and I watched the clock closely, timing it so that we could bring out two homemade cakes featured with obnoxious singing at the stroke of the new day.
We had all worked hard this last month and change, and we partied just as hard.
My last week on the farm was a slow one, filled with the goodbyes of people leaving before me, and late mornings of being kept away from work by the rain. Summer was giving way to fall. My time here was starting to drag on, just at the edges, fraying the fringe. My mission was complete. But it would still be another two weeks before I returned to the States.
I worked a few odd hours in the cellar, labeling and packaging orders for Aline. I was given a fair amount of time in the final week to work on her website, refurbishing everything from the fonts to the menu order. I was given plenty of creative freedom and encouraged to use all of the photography that I have collected thus far from the season. Only a few things remained unfinished, and that is the organization and the description of the wines--something I wouldn't dare to do. But her site can be found here: domainedesmathouans.fr
Our final good-bye was mundane and without ceremony. Aline drove me to Perpignan on a rainy Monday morning, where I now stay in an AirBnb until my early flight home in a few more days. The apartment is down a narrow alley. She double parked the giant black Renault van that doubles in size whenever we leave the wide open spaces of the farm. Cars were backing up in the street. No one had patience for an emotional, prolonged good-bye. Aline hugged me quickly and raced back to the van, its hazard lights flashing like emergency beacons.
And that was it.