One glorious, sunny day in late September this year we took part in our local vendange. Joining neighbours and friends with secateurs and buckets in hand, we harvested the grapes from properties around our local district. About 20 of us – men, women and children – spent a long morning filling buckets with ripe grapes and dumping them into vats on the backboard of a tractor. Some of the grapes were planted in long rows, just like a real vineyard, but many (like ours at La Vieille Grange) had grown over trellises and along fences to provide summer shade in front of houses and barns.
The sturdy vines grew exceptionally well during the year, thanks to abundant rain in early spring followed by a hot summer with occasional downpours accompanying storms. The grapes were fully ripe weeks ahead of their normal harvest date.
This pitching in by local farmers, most of whom had over generations planted a few rows of grapevines on their properties, is a well-established tradition in the area and many of the farms have a stone-built cuve into which the crushed grapes were poured to start fermentation. Most of the grapes we picked were of an obscure local red variety, similar to merlot or tannat, but with a few white grapes thrown in because they were there. The wine is therefore a ‘blend’ of local varieties.
Once picked, our grapes joined the others to be taken to the underground cellar of a friend to be crushed and cleaned of any leaves, spiders’ webs and other contaminants before the magic of fermentation and winemaking took place in the following weeks.
But the celebration of this joyous occasion (and in truth, the real reason for the event) was the delicious vendange special lunch where the pickers were invited to sit at a long table, eating plates of local produce including duck parmentier, local cheeses and, of course, few glasses of local red. The meal started with a glass of just-picked grape juice, the raw material of the winemaking process – and it tasted particularly good. We can’t wait to taste it when it turns into wine – the real fruit of our labours!
The true heroes of the day were not the pickers, but the providers of the splendid lunch – for providing not only food and drink but the opportunity to gossip, laugh and get to know our neighbours, make new friends and look forward to next year’s wine tasting.
La Vieille Grange came with a few locally barrels which for many years were used to store wine made from grapes grown there and fermented in our own stone cuve. But they were in poor shape for storing wine these days and have been pressed into service as useful surfaces in the BBQ area we now refer to as our ‘barrel room’.