Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Les Vendanges

La Tuilerie Website

Yes it’s grape picking time again! Normally the vendanges are strictly regulated by the relevant authority and grape picking starts in mid-August around here. This year it was announced at the beginning of August that viticulturists would, for the first time, be free to decide their own harvesting dates.

Many of the vineyards around here are small estates who sell their grapes to the local cave co-operative in return for a small amount of money or copious amounts of table wine. These are the vineyards that use machines to harvest. These machines are often co-owned and rotate around the fields at harvest time. Most will only take one pass at their vines which means that after harvesting is over there are plenty of grapes to be had free of charge from the vines. The machines only pick ripe bunches and so late developing bunches and bunches too deep in the foliage to be caught, remain on the vines for the birds and other (human) scavengers. If you want to make your own wine, you can certainly do that with free grapes if you have the time and patience to go searching.

The hand-picking is for the better crus, where the quality of grape is more important. Pickers can go up and down the rows of vines a number of times during the two to three week picking period and make sure no decent grape is left.

The first pickers appeared in the vineyards yesterday. This new flexibility in picking times means that the pickers will have more work as they can move between vineyards in the same area and also all vineyards will have enough pickers. It is not badly paid (up to about 200 Euros a day) but picking is really hard work, not for the faint-hearted and not for those with a dodgy back! Apart from the pay, a full-blown meal at lunch time is included and accommodation is often also part of the deal.

At the end of the picking there is a huge party, called "une paulée" round here, where lots of the local brew is consumed and the party can go on for more than twelve hours. Traditionally these parties were for the pickers to round off a few weeks of hard work, but now they have been institutionalised and have been taken over by the wine growing towns. These parties usually called “Fêtes des vendanges” are held in all the towns and villages which live from the wine trade, all have their own particular events and way of celebrating the end of another season. There are very famous large fêtes in the Côte de Nuits area particularly in Nuit St George where the fountains flow with wine. Closer to home Beaune, Pommard, Chardonnay, Peronne, Givry and Buxy all have their share of fun. It is also a welcome boost to the tourist trade just as business is trailing off at the end of the summer.

The last two years have been mediocre years for Burgundy wine as for most of the French wines, but this year there are stories of a very good year. Not that farmers of any nature are optimistic creatures, but there are rumours that this crop could be destined to make some of the best wine ever. Time will tell.

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