Think your job is tough? Check this out.
In 1993 I toured the facilities at the Chateau Pommery winery in Reims, France. I arranged for a private tour because I was taking photos for a travel guide. (Yeah, yeah, tough job, but that’s not what I’m talking about.)
Pommery makes Champagne — the real stuff. As part of the tour, my guide explained that there were 17 kilometres of caves under the chateau, collectively holding something like 25 millions bottles of the stuff.
Each of the caves are named after a city. The longest one, a full kilometre, was called “Montreal.” Some of the caves housed bottles that were ready to drink, but others, like Montreal, held bottles that were still in production.
The process for real Champagne is something like this: The wine is fermented for a fairly short period, then bottled. The bottles spend almost a year tilted in a neck-down position, stacked in wooden racks. (You can see several thousand of them in those racks in this week’s Monday Morning Photo Blog entry. Click the thumbnail on the right to go there, but come back to finish the story.) They do this to allow the wine’s sediment to collect at the bottom of the cork.
When the time is up, the wine is opened and the plug of sediment removed. It is topped up with a bit of still wine from the previous year’s vintage, then recorked. At that point it’s pretty much ready to drink.
But here’s the kicker. During those long months when the bottles are inverted, they need to be rotated so the sediment doesn’t stick to the glass. It needs to slide all the way down to the base of the cork.
OK, that’s not the kicker, here’s the kicker: every one of those bottles is turned one-quarter of a turn, every day, by hand!
There are people who make their living doing that. Every day, day in, day out, year after year. They go underground and spend eight hours turning bottles, two at a time, a quarter turn.
Hey, it’s a living. And I’ll bet they make good arm wrestlers!