A vineyard owner and exchange student share culture and knowledge
There’s always more to learn at the vineyard, whether you’re a seasoned proprietor or a student.
At Hafner Vineyard, owner Parke Hafner and exchange student Pierre Bardinet have been learning from one another over the summer and through the harvest.
Bardinet comes from France, where he lives on a family vineyard. He came to the U.S. to refine his English and learn more of the culture, not only of wine, but America.
Hafner has been hosting for years, long enough for some of his first students to come back and teach him something about the industry. He said that for most exchange students, it’s their first time learning about wine, making Bardinet somewhat of an exception.
“I grew up on a winery. I live on a family property in France where my mom makes wine, so I’ve been in the wine industry since I was born in some ways,” Bardinet said.
Bardinet then went to an engineering and agriculture school in Toulouse, France, where he joined an internship program to learn English in America. Bardinet first came to Hafner Vineyard on July 15, and had a stay of three months.
The biggest difference between wineries in France versus here, Bardinet said, was the attitude toward grapes and the history of the wine.
“In France, you grow your grapes and with those grapes you make your wine. It’s all one. Whereas here, it seems to be much more separated, with the grape growing on one side and the winemaking on the other side,” Bardinet said.
Hafner said his experience in France showed him a winemaking process that relied more on instinct and tradition.
“I was scientifically trained at UC Davis. So when I was first in the industry, that was the lens through which I looked at everything,” Hafner said. “Then I worked in Burgandy, in a very small, traditional winery that didn’t have the technology that I had been used to and yet they made the best Chardonnay I’ve ever had. My eyes were opened to the art of winemaking.”
Hafner, who has been making wine since 1982, said bringing that knowledge back home was like placing more pieces in a puzzle.
“You kind of find your own path for winemaking. A lot of it’s science-based but a lot of it is also just kind of getting a feel for the kind of wine, the style, that we’re looking for,” he said.
Hafner said another difference he’s seen traveling back from Europe is the way wine is viewed as a part of a meal across the Atlantic.
“Here it seems like something people ooh and ah over. It’s look at how expensive my wine is or the beauty of the winery I bought it from or whatever,” Hafner said.
Bardinet said that in France, wine is not only a large symbol for the nation, but a big piece of rural history.
He said he saw a shift to what he described as “factory” winemaking in the U.S. when he saw other wineries. It was a large difference from the “hand-made” wines of small families in France.
Bardinet said he not only wanted to bring back winemaking skills, but a knowledge of the business side, which could help him if he decides to pursue a career in sales.
He’ll also be bringing home many good memories, he said, including many bike rides through the countryside.
Getting to work
At the beginning, due to the timing of the internship, Bardinet learned about the end of the process, bottling.
But when harvest came, the two — along with the rest of the team — were out at 4:30 a.m. and would be out for around 11 hours.
“We’ll be bringing in 20 tons of Chardonnay tomorrow,” Hafner said during the harvest. “We press them and settle the juice. Then in two or three days we’ll put the juice into barrels for fermentation.”
Bardinet said it was a lot to take in.
“I’ve grown out on the winery in France … but being here for three months, working every day, I’ve learned much more than when I worked one or two days a week or when I’m just helping my parents in France,” he said.
He said while he only made red wine in France, he learned about white, red and rosé here.
The technology is pretty similar, Bardinet said, with the exception of the harvest machines used in Sonoma County.
Experiencing the U.S.
When Bardinet wasn’t working, he kept a full schedule seeing the sights and taking in American culture.
“I really wanted to discover the American way of life because it’s something the teachers talk about since we are 10,” he said.
Hafner said they did some traveling, heading out to Donner Lake up in the mountains and to San Francisco and Berkeley, where he saw an American football game.
“I really like the feeling in general, with people singing and happy and all the shows,” he said. “But I couldn’t really understand the rules.”
Before staying with Hafner, Bardinet did have some other U.S. experience in Connecticut, and also went to a boarding school in England. And while Hafner said Bardinet’s English was good from the start, Bardinet said he still had a learning curve for all the technical terms on the vineyard.
Hafner does encourage a little bit of the mother tongue, with a couple days a week of French peppered in over a meal, which includes other team members.
Hafner said the immersion of living on the winery and the attitude toward wine in daily life helps impart his winemaking values to students like Bardinet. Explaining the reasons for everything, and not just giving direction, helps students wrap their heads around the purpose behind the process.
Hafner said he hosts so many students in part as a way to pay it forward for his own internship abroad, which has turned into a web of education.
“I had the opportunity to do an internship in France a year before we built the winery here. It was such a valuable experience for me, that when the opportunity came for me to possibly reciprocate, we jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
Hafner said his first intern was in 1985, after hosting a winemaker the year before. He’s continued to host every year.
“We enjoy it. Our kids are out of the house, so it’s brought some youth back into the house. We love the opportunity to teach what we do here and we know that it’s an investment for us as well,” Hafner said.
His daughter was in Bordeaux learning abroad as Bardinet finished his internship, with Hafner’s intern from 1990.
The full circle of interning goes even further, Hafner said, as he’s hosted a father and later his son.
“Many of the interns become close personal friends, especially if they come back to visit,” Hafner said.