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Vendange Story

Wine Making | Wine Harvesting | Vendange Story | Fermentation |

Neighbors. Some time back, when we lived in a rural hamlet in the center of France, we did the vendange every year with our neighbors. Each year, a schedule was set up so that everybody from the surrounding small farms would do the vendange together for one farm, for two or three days, until all the grapes were picked, and move from farm to farm that way, until the vendange was completed for everybody.

Early Morning. With an early-morning start, we rode out on a large wooden flat-bed trailer behind a tractor to the vineyard, sharing the trailer with empty barrels. Working down the rows, you clip off each bunch of grapes with clippers (secateurs), dropping the bunches in your own bucket. Today, some vines are grown quite high on the long wires stretched between the posts. Our vines were low; we had to squat down, clip the bunches from one vine, stand and move to the next, and squat down again.

Ambience. The work is hard, tiring and fast, with an undercurrent of competition; you wouldn't want to be the last one to fill your bucket. The ambience, though, is fantastic. Everybody picks, men, women and older kids, and there's constant banter, teasing, jokes, and other carrying-on, but nothing that slows the picking.

"La Hutte!". When buckets begin getting full, there are cries for "la hutte! la hutte!". The person with the "hutte", an inverted cone basket, strapped to his back would pass down the line so the pickers could empty their buckets and continue harvesting.

Into Barrels. When la hutte was full, it was taken to the trailer and emptied through the "grinder" into a barrel. The portable "grinder" was a large wooden funnel with a hand crank to operate simples gears. The grinder broke up the grapes, half squashing them, into the barrel. When a barrel was full, the grinder would be moved to an empty barrel.

Back to the Farm. If the timing was right, all the barrels would be filled by lunch time. The pickers would climb on the trailer and escort the barrels back to the farm. The women would go to help serve the lunch and the men would unload the grapes. The trailer is backed up to a large cement vat, and the barrels (very heavy) are tipped in one at time.

Lunch. Vendange lunch at a small farm is an experience itself. With the vendange moving from vineyard to vineyard, each tries to maintain their honor by putting on the biggest and best mid-day meal. A plate and a fork and a soup spoon is set out at every place. When people sit, they immediately extract and unfold their pocket knives and lay them beside the plate. With several courses following in succession, and liberal quantities of wine, we thought the first time that picking must be over for the day. Skimping with your serving for any course is greeted with shouts that you must not like the food, or the cook -- encouraging over-eating, over and over.

Closed Knife. Lunch drags on in a leisurely manner, with talk, gossip, jokes going on constantly, and there's no apparent hurry, even after coffee and marc (the local white lightning). At some moment, the patron picks up and closes his pocket knife. Immediately, everyone rises, folding their own knives, and heads back to the tractor for a ride out to the vineyard.

Standing Up. You head out to the vines, bucket in hand; so far, so good. You pull out your secateur and squat down; so far, so good. You clip of the bunches of grapes and drop them in your bucket; so far, so good. You try to stand up to move to the next vine, and realize that the huge lunch was a mistake, or else you need some serious practice with eating and drinking before working.

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