Grapes are being picked all over France.
Big commercial vineyards and local farmers with a few vines are all turning their attention to La Vendange.
When we lived in the Vendée we had vines.
On the surface having vines and making wine has a lot of romantic appeal.
And it is fun…. Sometimes.
Le Vendange or harvest always has a bit of a party atmosphere, regardless of the fact that the actual picking is back-breaking labor.
We didn't have a lot of vines, although at times it felt like we did.
We had app. 360 rosé wine vines, 200 red wine vines and 100 white wine vines.
Each year they all had to be trimmed, tied, thinned, trimmed, sprayed, sprayed and sprayed (Bordeaux Mixture) and, finally, picked.
The picking part is the one that every one enthuses about: warm September days in the sun picking luscious, juicy grapes.
No one ever waxes poetical about standing in the freezing muck in February, trimming….
I thought you might like to see what goes into Le Vendange for the typical French farmer with a few vines….
This was our cave. These barrels were for the red and white wine. There were 2 big barrels standing on the other side of the room for the rosé
They all had to be cleaned and sterilized before the picking starts.
In front you can see the small press we used for the white wine. The harvest wasn't large enough to use the big press
Both the small press and the large press had to be scrubbed and sterilized, all the pressing boards hosed down, the secateurs located and cleaned….
Then the whole lot was left to dry in the sun.
The first year the former owners of our house came to help with the picking and to show us how everything worked.
This is the neighborhood crusher.
After the grapes were crushed they went into the big press.
Yes, it bears a striking resemblance to a big, concrete square flat box.
The press is on the floor above the cave. There's a hole in one corner of the floor that the juice drains through, into the barrels below.
It's a two-person job.
We let the grapes sit overnight and pressed them the next morning.
First, we shoveled them into the center.
Oh – this is a photo of the actual press thingy…. It's old, very, very heavy and so well-balanced one could spin it up or down with a finger.
Wooden bars are laid across the grapes, then planks balanced on the bars.
Heavy posts are criss-crossed on the planks to reach the press.
It was turned, and pressure applied until the boards creaked….
My job, was to keep the juice flowing. The arrow points to the hole in the floor. I had to keep the grape skins out of the hole and the juice flowing freely.
It was a very purple job.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned washing and sterilizing the equipment.
That's what all the books told us to do.
But our neighbors were't quite so fussy.
Think about it….
Think about all the stuff that goes into the crusher, then the press, then the barrels…. sticks, leaves, stems, stinkbugs, spiders, bird shit….. Some of the few non-grape things that make up the "je ne sais quoi" of the vintage.
And then there's the
stuff that is on the actual grape.
Even at the absolute top "we pick every individual berry carefully by hand" vineyard they don't wash the grapes – that's where the yeast is.
Our vineyard gave us about 40 litres of white, and 300 litres of rosé. The red was never very prolific so we just tossed the red wine grapes in the rosé.
None of it was particularly good….
All in all, it was a lot of work and a lot of money for mediocre wine.
But it was fun for a few years….