Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Harvest Approaches

For the last couple of weeks I have been hanging out around a vineyard in the Central Loir region. The vineyard owner has been incredibly generous, showing me around his vineyard and explaining everything that goes on here. The plan is for me to observe/participate in the harvest (the vendage) and then to stay on for another week or two shadowing the person in charge of monitoring the fermentation. What incredible luck! I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fit for my project.

While machines are usually used for the main harvest, this morning we had a small pre-harvest by hand. Because the winemaker wants to use only the wild yeast to ferment his organic wine, we harvested two buckets of grapes, which will ferment for a week before the full harvest is brought in. This miniature batch will provide a good medium for cultivating the wild yeasts found on the grape skins, functioning as a sort of sourdough-starter for wine. After picking the grapes, we drove down to the cooperative where we stomped them, pressed them by hand, and filtered out the stems and skins. Now we wait…

After crushing and pressing by hand all morning, I got to see the harvesting machine for the first time. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first (being seduced by the romantic image of communities eternally banding together, vendage after vendage to bring in the harvest by hand). When I asked the winemaker why he harvests by machine, he cited several reasons. First, it is cheaper. In order to harvest the amount of grapes he does every year in the same time as the machine, the vineyard owner would have to hire sixty to seventy people, and with labor laws the way they are in France, that is no easy feat. Second, its more flexible. If the weather is bad in the day, you can harvest at night. This is harder to coordinate with sixty to seventy people and in the small village where the vineyard is located, it would be a challenge to find that many willing to do this work. Third, it may even be better for the eventual quality of the wine. The way the machine harvests the grapes is by shaking the vines, causing only the ripest grapes to fall off. With manual labor, each picker has to know how to tell which grapes are ready to be harvested and which to leave on the vine, a process fraught with error.

I am excited to see how the harvest works. I have been told to expect long hours, short naps, endless coffee, and an air of camaraderie. I learned today that I will also be forced to get over my pet-peeve of having sticky hands. Nothing is sticker than freshly squeezed grapes. Can’t wait…


  1. bravo! Your first vendage!
    come home and make some wine ici dans la vermont

  2. Hi Max - this living/learning/traveling thing is working wonderfully for me thanks to your descriptive narratives and photos. With your details and insights, this blog will also be a Year In The Life of Max heirloom for you and your family to treasure. Getting the senses awakened to your scene through your writing is a treat. Thank you.

  3. I'm delighted and enthralled with both your writing style and your story. LUV, Nanny

  4. Thanks everyone,

    I appreciate the kind words. I am glad that I can share my adventure with you, and that you enjoy it as well! Haha, it might get a little tiresome if I went into such detail in person!