September is the month of grape harvesting in France, known as the “Vendage”.
Nearly every region in France produces wine, with some of the world’s most famed wines coming from valleys not too far away from our house.
Jacob and I have learned a lot about the Vendage in the past week. Our dear friend Jaki just went off to the region of Bourgogne where she will be paid a lot of money to harvest grapes by hand for the next two weeks. Most vineyards harvest their grapes with machines, but the really good wine – the really, really expensive stuff, gets harvested by hand. Jaki told us about how the wine is so exclusive; it is reserved and purchased by the rich and famous years before the wine is even made. This year, some wealthy Japanese businessmen have already purchased all the wine to be made in 2012.
Jacob and I had the privilege to join in a “Petite Vendage”, hosted by some family friends. Every year they hold the same celebration: invite all of their friends over to help harvest the grapes, followed by a feast that lasts twice as long as the hours you actually worked.
Informed that we were to show up at 7.30 am for the Vendage to begin, Jacob and I woke up while it was still dark out, and drove over to our friends’ house. The house was all closed up, and I, having not been there in six years, couldn’t promise that we were actually in the right place. Thankfully, our friends heard our voices outside, and appeared on the deck in their bathrobes. Apparently it was 9.30 am we were supposed to meet – not 7.30.
Whoops. At the proper time, we reconvened and drove out to the vineyard.
It was sweaty, backbreaking work. The grapes grow on the lower part of the vines, which rarely grow taller than hip-level. But we were with a merry bunch of people, and between all of us, we got the work done in about four hours.
As the buckets of grapes grew full, we began to bring them to the Cave – the place where the wine is made. This particular Cave is very, very old. We were told several times about how once, King Louis XIII slept in that very building.
Inside the Cave, there was a hand-cranked machine that ground the grapes, stems and all, into a pulp. Then the pulp and juice was thrown into a stone basin where it would be allowed to ferment.
After the work was done, the feasting began.
We have enjoyed several of the famous French-style dinners since being here, but this was by far the most intense. The French commonly eat their meals in courses. A typical dinner will start with a salad, then a main course with one or two side dishes. A cheese and fruit course will follow, sometimes followed by dessert. If it is a formal dinner with guests, you can expect at least 4 courses, spaced over about 3 hours.
The lunch we had after the Vendage boasted 7 courses in 4 hours.
When the eating finished, Jacob and I made our rounds of goodbyes and were shocked when asked, “Wait – you’re not staying for dinner?”
It took us a while to recover from that meal.
Another day Jacob and I went to a nearby mountain called Mt. Bouquet. For being a relatively small mountain, it has spectacular views.
A few days later, Jacob and I made a day trip to the city of Avignon. Avignon is a beautiful medieval city (of course) that sits right on the Rhone River. It is in the heart of a region where the famous Cotes-Du-Rhone wine comes from.
The following Wednesday Jacob and I returned our rental car, and have been prohibited to traveling only as far as we can bike. It’s been a good time to rest, eat, and catch up on sleep.