Monday, September 13, 2010
My better French half, "Chief Grape": king of the vines in his grenache-tinted "robe" (photo taken 3 years ago). Today we begin our 4th harvest for the red wine!
la vendange (von-donzh) noun, feminine
1. grape/wine harvest or vintage
2. grapes (harvested); grape crop
vendanger (von-don-zhay) verb
1. to pick or to harvest grapes
synonyms: la récolte (harvesting, crop), le ramassage (collection), la cueillette (picking)
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Welcome to Grape Camp!
Grab a bucket and follow me out to the vines today. Got a windbreaker? Casquette? Sunglasses? Courage? Good, you'll need them!
Now reach into our flat-bed camion and get yourself a pair of sécateurs and some gants. Pull them on. Voilà!
Go ahead. Choose a vine row. There are many! Trip over a giant galet or two as you make your way over to the grapes. Set down your bucket next to a gorgeous pied de vigne—its leaves already burnt orange and crumbling from the ten day old Mistral. Feel the wind whip your hat off and gasp, mournfully, as you watch your sun shield billow over a field of vines. One less comfort... Get used to it!
Reach down, down, down, and gather a bunch of grapes. Take precautions (distinguish your fleshy fingers from the blue fruit). Now position your shears.... Clip! Relieve the branch of its heavy fruit. Aahhhh.... Watch the vine spring back, feeling lighter on its feet. As for you, you'll carry that weight, bucket by bucket till the sun goes down. Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four....
By the eighth or ninth vine put your hand on the small of your back, feel the pain in your reins, and let out a nervous chuckle—mumbling something about how you ought to take up yoga! Now look up, amazed, at the reality before you: an interminable field of vines! Listen as your chuckles turn to chokes, sobbing chokes. Mon Dieu, whatever gave you the idea that harvesting French grapes was something like romantic?
Continue to bend, stoop, and sometimes sit.... the 40-year-old vines "en goblet" are back-breakingly low to the ground. They hide their grapes well under a parasol of leaves (you'll need to crawl under the slumping vine in order to reach the grapes). The wind, now in full force, gives you a little kick and, fast as that, you're kissing the trunk where all the little balls of fruit are clustered. Chuck those grapes in the bucket, push yourself back up off the ground, and get a move on! This isn't a vacation, c'est la vendange!
Crash! You've stumbled again. Time to take your pick of juicy French expletives (you've learned plenty from the pickers) and curse those *@#!! WEEDS that have just tripped you up again, leaving scratches and, soon, swelling. Curse organic farmers and their fields of mauvaises herbes! On second thought, hats off to organic farmers and their fields of meter tall weeds (while they may be a harvester's hell on earth, weeds are a sign that the grapevines have been spared of herbicides).
What's that? You say you need to use the powder room? Well, Laaah DEEE daaaah! The "powder room" is right here! Ne soyez pas si prude! Just drop your drawers!
Huh? Worried someone might see you? Well, then, there's a cypress tree at the end of this field. But hurry up, we need you back here illico presto!
Off you trot while your fellow harvesters giggle and snort. Oh, go on, no one's watching!
Back to work now and shhh! Don't talk so much. See that big guy over there with the queue de cheval? That's my brother-in-law (the self-elected supervisor). He checks buckets by the minute. Make sure yours is full and don't blame it on the dull shears (as I did, last time he checked) or he'll teach you an old French farming dicton:
"Il n'y a pas de mauvais outils, il n'y a que de mauvais ouvriers!"
(There are no bad tools, only bad toilers!)
What's that? You say you're thirsty? Didn't you bring a water bottle? Never mind. Have a slug of this. No, it isn't milk. There's water (albeit murky) inside.... It was the only container Chief Grape could find. Lord knows he isn't finicky about gourdes, only grapes. Grapes! Grapes! Bring in the grapes!
"Ten more buckets and you can stop!" Chief Grape shouts. No, he's not talking to you, Grapehead! (Nor, to me!) He's talking to our twelve-year-old son, telling him that the boy's shift is almost over.
Mwahahaha! As for you—we have YOU for the day. Now get on with it! No talking! ALLEZ! Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two three four.... Welcome to grape camp!
Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments are most welcome. Thank you for leaving a message here, in the comments box.
la casquette = cap
le camion = truck
le sécateur = pruning shears
le gant = glove
voilà! = there you go!
le galet = stone
le pied de vigne = vine stock
le mistral = a powerful, cold, northern wind
le reins = lower part of back (avoir mal aux reins = to have pain in the lower back)
mon Dieu = my God
en gobelet = vines that are low to the ground, untrained, shaped like a gobelet
c'est la vendange = it's harvest time
les mauvaises herbes = weeds
ne soyez pas si prude = don't be such a prude
illico presto! = right away!
queue de cheval = ponytail
la gourde = water bottle
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:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter (9-years-old at the time of this recording...) pronounce today's word & quote:
Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives* sont les plus délicieuses.
Terms & Expressions:
une vendangeuse, un vendangeur = a grape picker
une bonne vendange = a good vintage
les vendanges = grape harvesting time
un vendangeoir = a grape-picker's basket
la vendange en vert = a green harvest (crop/cluster thinning)
vendanger une vigne = to harvest a vine
pendant les vendanges = during the grape harvest
faire les vendanges = to harvest or pick the grapes
vendanger de bonne heure = to get an early start on the harvesting
Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives sont les plus délicieuses. / Like the grape harvest, love gathered late is the most delicious. --Jean Amadou
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety
Well wishes to all the workers for the 2010 vendange, I am there is spirit and enjoying the sun a few kilometers away in the Var. Tomorrow I leave the Var for the Luberon and the lovely perched villages, will see you soon!
Posted by: Jacqui McCargar | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 12:00 PM
"This isn't a vacation, c'est la vendange!" - I love that. One of these days I will enjoy the fruits of a previous "vacation"...
P.S. I thought your Max was a little older than 12!
Posted by: Jens, Copenhagen, Denmark | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 12:32 PM
Ah...I remember being a vendangeuse once in the Loire and soon understood what I think was called mal aux reins!!Good luck to the hard workers.
Angela in Sussex
Posted by: Angela Sargent | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 01:16 PM
I have to say again that I LOVE the way you tell a story, Kristin.
And, I don't think I can ever drink my wine again without appreciative thoughts of the physical efforts that make it possible.
I'm wondering if you've ever considered getting a hot-tub for le rien, though?
Posted by: Karen W (Towson, Maryland) | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 01:20 PM
Kristin, This is a wonderful post. My lower back and thighs ache just reading this! I dare say, I don't think I am up for the challenge. From now on when I raise a glass, I am going to give a nod to une vendangeuse or un vendangeur who made this pleasure possible.
Is the mistral on? If so, is it unusual for this time of year?
Good luck and see you soon. Do you need me to bring some BenGay for your pack for perhaps a jacuzzi?
Courage my friend.
Margaret in Durham where the mornings are gloriusly cool.
Posted by: Margaret Dennis | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 01:37 PM
Seriously, Can I come help for a day? You may pay me in wine!! I live near Nimes and have some experience. Craig
Posted by: craig cowden | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 01:41 PM
Mes genoux sont trop vieux pour un tel travail, mais je pourrais certainement apprécier les fruits de votre travail :-)
Posted by: Cindy McDonald | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 01:55 PM
Cheers of appreciation a tous les vendangeurs, and yes, yoga would be a perfect antidote to all the bending and back-breaking work. Is it too late to get there as the on-site yoga mama?! Good luck to all.
As said before, I'll never sip the wines again without remembering this story! Thanks Kristin - your writing is superb.
Posted by: Pat Cargill | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 01:59 PM
Sounds like boot camp for wine makers!
Mindy in Manhattan Beach, Ca. where it's not quite sunrise....
Posted by: Mindy | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 02:10 PM
As much as I love France, I think that I must pass on the grape harvest. I'll be at the Louvre; just call when you are done.
Posted by: mary | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 02:14 PM
Viva les vendangeurs! Your story rushed me through vines as if I was right along side of you. Thank you for bringing la vendange to us, Kristin.
Posted by: Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 02:14 PM
These wonderful posts are perfect. and so are you. My morning coffee in Hampton VA.
Posted by: Joyce Hoover | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 02:15 PM
What a wonderfully clever portrait of les vendageurs at work. Is there a wine magazine to which you could submit this (or French travel magazine)? But when I finally get there to help for a season, I now know to definitely pack my yoga DVD's -- and an old t-shirt. Bonne chance to you and Chief Grape!
Posted by: Julie F | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 02:17 PM
I believe the word "recoltE" has an "e" at the end.
It is so easy not to think about the work that goes into producing things, and how labor-intensive wine-making, among other activities, is. That is one reason never to waste food or other items in which others have invested their efforts.
I am very glad that your vineyard uses only organic methods. But is no effort made to pull the weeds before they get to be a meter high? In my flower gardens, if I didn't pull weeds (mainly crabgrass) up from time to time, they would take over.
Jens, I think this post was originally written 3 years ago (Max, now 15, was 12), and perhaps slightly update by Kristin before posting. Correct? I assume if Max helped with the vendange at 12, he continues to do so now. And does Jackie help a bit, as well?
If I could afford the airfare to and from, I would come over and help with the harvest. The next best way to "help" is to continue to drink Rouge-Bleu!
Posted by: Marianne Rankin | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 02:19 PM
This was so interesting, I love the photo, your Hubby is working hard. I'd love a photo of the vineyard to paint. Do you make your own wine? If so if it dry red I am interested in buying some..
Posted by: yvonne | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 03:42 PM
I am not going to complain about my chore's today!!!
I loved the trip throught the field with you this morning. I can say that because I'm not there next to you in the winds and dip's for the bucket's and bucket's of grapes to go.
I love the pictures you shared too!!
Where is it I could find a bottle of this nectar of the grapes in my area?
Posted by: Missy | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 03:53 PM
Oh Kristin, you paint such a lifelike picture that we can all feel the joy and pain of the vendange. I experienced "plucking" the German grapes from the hillside vines a few years ago...much fun from the downhill side until you have to hump the heavy shoulder baskets up the hill. Happy the pickers when the scent of lunch curls up with the grapevine smoke, and even happier to ride the tractor down to the co-op to see "your" grapes dumped into the maw. But the ultimate is in the drinking, and, as all your readers have appreciated, the thought before the sip must go to those who picked each bunch, bringing the elixir to life. Much luck and love to you all. As I sit here in Virginia with a broken leg!!! no picking for a while for me!!!
Posted by: Susan Widmayer | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 04:18 PM
I LOVE your blog! This one was especially good. Thank you thank you thank you! :) I want to go live in France so bad.
Posted by: Dana Marie | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 04:42 PM
The question on the radio conversation with vintners yesterday... "If you were a grape, which grape would you be?"
And the classic question was to pick a grape and tell who that grape would be. For instance, a pinot noir was Cary Grant - debonair, improved with age, a classic, etc.
Have fun in the fields! A boire!
Posted by: GwenEllyn | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 04:55 PM
Kristin, I have some friends in marketing. I think they would suggest a few changes in your "recruiting" story for Camp Vendange! hmm, on the other hand getting a sore back from picking grapes in the sun sounds like a lot more fun than, say, grading papers! the grapes look beautiful. it looks like the vines did good work this summer. I am sure they too are ready for a welcome rest. Can't wait to drink the fruits of their labor!
Posted by: gary | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 05:00 PM
Bonjour! Thank you for these responses. Marianne is right, this was written three years ago. (Thanks, too, for the edits!)
Yes, Max and Jackie pick the grapes -- but only for a day (so as not to "put them off" of this lifestyle!)
Craig, I forwarded your offer to Chief Grape :-) On verra... and many thanks.
Missy (and those of you who asked about where to buy Domaine Rouge-Bleu): please check out this page:
Yvonne, yes, Jean-Marc makes the wine here at the farm, in cement tanks!
Julie, thanks for the encouragement! Only I think it's too late to query about this article.
Margaret, yes--the mistral is on today! The harvesters say it is cooling them off.
Posted by: Kristin | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 05:12 PM
It's still morning in Tennessee and I am already tired just reading about this backbending work! I, too, will be much more appreciative of this pure process without machines or pesticides. And your grapes are truly deep purple-gorgeous.
Thank you, Kristin, for this immersion experience. I almost feel guilty not being there to help.....
Posted by: Ophelia in Nashville | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 05:12 PM
I can just feel my back aching as I read your story. I could never do that back breaking work any more. Yoga and a massage sound like the best things at the end of the day, along with some of your good wine, cheese and bread.
Look forward to October and seeing the grapes all picked and the vines getting ready for their winter sleep. Is there something which you'd like from Connecticut or the USA?
Fall has started here. I didn't like the hot (90F +) and extremely humid 2 months of summer, but I'm not ready for fall. Some trees are starting to turn color, which is really gorgeous, but too early for me.
Posted by: Kathleen | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 06:41 PM
Chief Grape, may I suggest immediately releasing the current writer from all duties related to Harvest and putting a fiction writer on the job .. otherwise I fear you may experience a much reduced work force in the future! :)
Posted by: Bill Facker | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 09:34 PM
Best wishes on the vendange. Reminds me of 35 years ago bicycling across France and down thru Burgundy and the Cotes du Rhone area. We saw many of the pickers biking to work and were invited to join them. We had to continue on our journey though with the Mistral occasionally at our back, fortunately. I could see it was hard work, but a very exciting time for them. Unfortunately, we don't have that tradition here in CA, migrant workers do the job.
I don't think I could manage a day of that kind of work now, but maybe a morning.
Posted by: Geary Arceneaux | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 11:19 PM
A very vivid description. Whew!... it wears me out just to read about it.
Kudos to all the vendangeurs for their efforts!!
Posted by: Christine | Monday, September 13, 2010 at 11:33 PM
I was laughing so hard reading this post! You really brought your story to life! I love the "laaah DEEE Daaah"....I could picture your brother in law with a whip in hand.
Thanks for a great post!
Posted by: Eileen deCamp | Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 03:22 AM
Kristi at her best with pen and camera!!!
Shared with Nancy, heard a "Wow!" or two and after she finished -- "Thanks a lot; that was great!"
Posted by: Fred Caswell | Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 03:28 AM
Posted by: Jennifer in OR | Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 07:00 AM