Saturday, April 17, 2010

Potential Employers Be Damned

The wine cellar at the Chateau closes around 6 or 6:30 pm, so that is usually when Madame Canneaux throttles through the door that adjoins the cave and the hotel office with a half-consumed 60-euro bottle of Grand Cru pinot noir.

“I have something very nice today!” she says to Joey and I, who are invariably sitting in the office around this time. “Who wants a little taste? Laura?”

Madame Canneaux is a sizeable lady, fond of fluorescent pantsuits, and is probably nearing 70. Dora-the-Explorer coloring-book pages filled in by her 5-year-old granddaughter adorn the walls in the wine cave reception. She has been the Chateau Hugo Merliers label representative for over three decades, proving the anti-oxident superpowers of red wine to be true.

Joey declines since he has to drive home, but I have a really hard time refusing her and her complementary offers of world-class red. Now Madame Canneaux has grown to count on me as solid aid in finishing off the day’s wine-tasting selection. It was only on the night that Thérèse was filling in for Joey that she reminded me that drinking on the job, even in Burgundy, even just a glass, is considered pretty awful form.

“So why does Madame Canneaux offer it?” I asked Thérèse, suddenly panicking about all the times Joey had rolled his eyes as I happily accepted a glass.

“She’s just a little bit… like that.”

I nodded. We stashed our 2008 Morey St. Denis behind the fax machine. When all the guests had left for dinner, Thérèse turned off all the lights and locked the door. We toasted.

So while I have to watch out for the Madame Schmidt and her morals/French workplace laws, Madame Canneaux relishes her role as temptress. I like it – a good witch-bad witch dynamic. One lives in a cheery reception filled with fresh tulip arrangements. The other lives in a cave dripping with booze.

But it was my benevolent boss, Madame Schmidt, who suggested yesterday that, to the end of furthering my Burgundian education, I tag along with some guests on a wine excursion led by a third-party private tour guide. No big deal that I was scheduled to wash dishes all morning. It was more important that I participate in what ended up being a three-part series of hour-long tastings at various domains all over the region.

“This is no factory, after all,” Madame Schmidt said as she waved me off around 9:30. “Have a nice time, dear.”

I skipped to the van. Oh, good-hearted Glinda! How could I even think for a moment that my allegiances lay with anyone else?

24 fine wines and one crème de cassis sampled, I returned late in the afternoon with red cheeks and a chatty disposition. I entered the office to thank Madame Schmidt, but found sitting in her place a smiley representative from the Dijon Tourism Board.

Amina and I quickly got to talking. Apparently she and the Madame were up to some kind of official business, but more importantly, I was American?! Amina loved Americans! How refreshing to hear, I said. We don’t have a very good reputation in the hotel industry. Oh, no! she insisted. Americans are my favorite clients in the tourism office! Amina, who was of Moroccan descent, had plenty of family in the States – all over the east coast, in fact. She loved it there, pointing out the American spirit of openness and our freedoms unknown to the rest of the world, such as Banana Republic.

As Amina was scribbling down her cell phone number and her family address in Marrakesh on the back of her card, Madame Schmidt walked in and gave me a squinty sort of look.

“For the next time I go to Morocco!” I said, holding up the card. I giggled.

I realized then to my horror that I was probably still feeling the effects of a six-hour wine excursion. I backed out of the office, promising Amina I would come to visit her in the tourism office soon, and escaped to the attic where I napped off my accidental AM binge until my 5 o’clock shift rolled around.

Then, as I was working away on the next day’s breakfast order from the bakery, Madame Canneaux busted in at 6:24. She had sold 120 bottles of wine to a group of Spaniards, and she wanted to celebrate.

“A little Echézaux 2007, Laura?” she said, in her sultry septagenarian way.

This time, I managed to just say no.

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