grapes-3The vendange, or grape harvest, is in full swing. Well before dawn, I hear the big harvesters rumble down the road to the vineyards. As I write, the hum of a harvester drifts through my open window.

machine-caunesThe hot, dry summer means this year’s harvest is small but good. When rain threatens at vendange time, the winemakers work around the clock to bring in the grapes before the precipitation dilutes their sugar content, or makes the vineyards too muddy to traverse, or, worst of all, brings hail that ruins the crop. This year’s clear blue skies have spared the vines of such problems.

Life around here still revolves around the vendange even though it no longer requires all hands on deck. For example, the village gym classes don’t begin until late September because traditionally too many participants had to work all day in the vineyards, harvesting grapes. These days, much of the harvest is done by giant machines that, when they roll through a little village, seem like contraptions out of horror movies, with their rows of teeth.

machine-villalier

amid-vines-villalier

tractor
Hauling off a load of future wine

Hand harvesting is back-breaking work. The grapes are just at a level where you have to bend over constantly. It was women’s work, while men collected the buckets of grapes and carried them to a wagon. It was a time for the locals without vineyards to earn a little extra money, though often they were paid in wine. I looked at help-wanted ads to see what seasonal workers earn now; it seems to be €9.67 an hour, which is minimum wage. With many easier ways for the French to earn the SMIC,  it isn’t surprising that the seasonal workers are mostly from Eastern Europe, Spain or Portugal. The New York Times had an article last week about volunteer tourists helping the harvest.

cite-vendange
Do you see the towers of la Cité to the left of the electricity pole?

The Domaine Fontaine Grande on the outskirts of Carcassonne is one that harvests by hand. A dozen workers quickly filled bucket after bucket, their secateurs, or clippers, snipping the generous bunches neatly. As fast as they went (most of my photos were blurs), they barely seemed to make headway in the vast vineyard.

It’s hard to miss the vendange. Traces of grapes on the roads. The heady scent of already-fermenting fruit drifting out from the cuves.

spilled-grapesBefore the vendange, taking grapes is theft, but after, the left-behind fruit is fair game. (Beware of the vendange tardive, or late harvest–those aren’t for taking either! The grapes are left on the vine until they start to dry out, to make dessert wine. It’s pretty easy to tell when a vineyard has been harvested–no big bunches are left).  Though it’s mostly the sangliers, or wild boars, that snarf up the last grapes.

climbing-ladder-1
The buckets of hand-picked grapes are collected into these bigger baskets….
climbing-ladder-2
Then dumped into the wagon.

Soon the 2016 millesime will be developing in the giant wine vats, and the leaves on the vines will change to brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow before falling off for winter.

vineyards
Minervois vineyards–a great alternative to pricier bordeaux and burgundy.
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16 thoughts on “Wine Harvest

    1. And I just scratched the surface. I translated the technical descriptions (fiches techniques) for some vigneron friends, and it’s so much more complex than what I could get into here. How long the grapes sit in vats, whether the weight of the grapes themselves or mechanical pressure is used to press out the juices, whether it’s done with or without the skins….

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  1. Sounds backbreaking but romantic at the same time with the scent of grape musk in the wind. When we arrive in Italy this week we will see the state of our 55 wines that came with the house. Not sure if there is any hope, but we would love to ‘throw’ our lot in with our growers to see if we can have some of our own wine. We will see…

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  2. This was great to read and see – thanks. I’ve wondered how they do it.

    Forty years ago (shockingly) I lived on one of the Greek islands. When it was wine making time in my little village, all the grapes (of course hand picked) were thrown into a tall wooden cask. Then a stocky young man named Vasilis took off his sandals, rolled up his pantlegs, climbed up and over the edge of the cask and began to stomp.

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      1. Film clip with Lucille Ball and friend stomping in a vat was put into the Pretty Woman film and I often think about that as The Dog and I are walking around our nearly grape depleated vines.

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  3. I love this! When we lived in Holland for a while, the “pickings” were tulip bulbs and daffodil bulbs, but the harvest time had the same flavor. No wine though. But roads in our village strewn with flowers. Beautiful photographs, friend! Please visit my blog today(9/28/16) for a fall home tour. My email subscription widget is currently being worked on by techno geniuses( but slow ones!) so you haven’t received any posts. ( this has caused me to drink lots of lovely French wine! Ugh. Techno problems;). Xo

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