Meet Rachel Mackenzie, the 2013 JN Apprentice and newest member of the team. Rachel beat off stiff competition to become the third person to secure a trainee position with James Nicholson Wine Merchant. Rachel really impressed us with her palate and passion for the wine world with a series of interviews and challenges that included a blind taste test.

Rachel joined us in September with the aim of learning all the aspects of the business during her time with us. Where better to start than to send Rachel on an adventure to France to experience winemaking firsthand. We contacted our friends at Chateau Thibaud who were only too happy to have Rachel become part of the winemaking team for the week. While there, Rachel sent us daily updates of her experiences of working at Chateau Thibaud during harvest.

Wednesday 25th September

Wow. What a beautiful place.  Chateau-Thebaud is a picturesque French village full of vineyards and friendly locals.  I'm introduced to Jeremie Huchet by Charles and Philippa Sydney and my first impression-he's so young! His winery is located on the same site as his and his family's houses; all the workers are family and close family friends. They are very welcoming to me, 'la petite anglaise', and I get a tour of the place. I can't wait to get started tomorrow morning.

Thursday 26th September

A jam-packed rainy day spent with Jeremie and Olivier, Jeremie's friend who works with him.  First things first- Jeremie and I take some echantillons to a few labs so they can be tested.  I get the opportunity to try some of his wine in its early stages and then we head back to the winery.  I spend the rest of the day with Olivier and observe as he demonstrates how to test the alcohol and acidity levels of the wine.  There's a lot more science involved than I realised.  After doing this Olivier gives me a tour of the factory.  It's a hub of energy where the bottling process takes place.  These guys really do work hard- forget 9-5, during the harvest they work 17 hours a day.

Saturday 28th September

I spent the morning hand picking grapes on another of Jeremies vineyards with some locals and a few tourists who were on holidays.  Jeremie's father, Yves, was also there to help out and show the first time grape pickers how it should be done.  I really enjoyed it and the lunch of pate and Muscadet wasn't bad either!  We stopped mid-afternoon due to the rain and returned to La Chauviniere.  Olivier gave me the task of recording the density and temperature of some wines that had been fermenting for a few days.  Jeremie was busy as ever and seemed concerned as he explained to me that he wasn't sure if the grapes that we had harvested that morning would be any good.  Nonetheless I really enjoyed today and had lots of fun talking to the locals at the vineyards.

Monday 30th September

I spent the entire day picking grapes about 200m from La Chauviniere.  Again, most of the group were made up of locals who were lending in a hand in the last few days of the harvest.  I'm glad I brought my waterproofs as it rained the whole time- did I bring the rain with me from NI?  The day flew in and I called in to see Jeremie when I had finished.  He told me that it was the biggest harvest that they'd had in one day- a new record!

Tuesday 1st October

I was back to working in the 'cave' today with Olivier.  When Jeremie arrived he was very upbeat and said that that mornings harvest was "une tres bonne vendange".  He seemed very pleased.  I carried out my usual duties, testing samples and reporting back to Olivier.  Before I knew it the day was over and I returned to my chamber d'hote.  Only two more days here in Chateau-Thebaud, I can't believe how quick it's gone.

Friday 4th October

Well that's that.  C'est fini.  The harvest finished last night and my time here has come to an end.  Jeremie says that they harvested enough to fill around 350,000 bottles of wine.  What an amazing experience this has been.  I've met some incredible people and will miss them, as well as the food and wine!  I thanked Jeremie and Olivier for what they have taught me and say my goodbyes.  Au revoir Chateau-Thebaud, a bientot.