La Vendange

photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
photopatrimoine.over-blog.com
After a wet morning of picking coffee in a natty outer garment formed from two black bin bags I came back to the house and caught up on the blogs I follow…then fell on a post from Janice about the vendange in her area of France.
In an instant the red cherries of coffee high on their wands were replaced in my mind for the dusty purple grapes along the low wires in the vineyards I’d known so well.

I picked grapes with friends and neighbours all the years I was in France, with only a couple of gaps due to illness.
I have no experience whatsoever of picking on the industrial scale, so cannot comment, but the small scale job gave me a lot of pleasure.
For one thing, it was usually only one day, or one and a half and then perhaps another couple of days later, so it was hardly demanding in terms of time, the weather was usually good and the company excellent.

Papy’s middle son Jean asked me if I would help the first year….Mamie usually helped, but she was getting past it and needed to rest and another pair of hands would be welcome.

Now, this was the unscientific age of winemaking, wild yeast on the grapes, no idea of temperature control and the desired result a pink wine a bit on the sweet side to keep the family going through the year.
Accordingly, it was not necessary to stumble out in the dark before the dawn to take advantage of the coolest part of the day…we ventured forth in the afternoon, when the housework and the farmwork had been dealt with and the sun was approaching its’ zenith. It promised to be warm work, and it was.

Jean organised us.
Each person had a wide bucket and a pair of secateurs – so small that I found them difficult to handle and in future brought my own big gardening ones which were more suited to my paws.
I was put with Jean’s wife, to see that I knew what to do; we were assigned our rows of vines and off we went.
The object was to pick the triangular bunches of ripe grapes and, at all costs, not to include the round balls of immature ones, the secondary growths that an all too casual pruning had allowed to develop.
If they went in, the wine would be too acidic.

Most people squatted or crouched, but I found my best method was to shuffle along on my knees hoping not to encounter too many thistles or nettles…it must be a height question, or a lack of attendance at yoga classes on my part. Supple I have never been.
The technique was to place the bucket under the bunches you were picking so that they dropped neatly within and the challenge was to miss no bunch, while being aware that another pair of secateurs was at work on the other side of the plant and your fingers were in imminent peril.

We moved along and I was pleased that I could keep up with the others and not miss anything…Papy inspected each row, with crows of triumph if he found a bunch still hanging on the vine.
Conversation was brisk, the gosssip was hair raising and I was quite surprised to find how quickly the buckets were filled and taken to the trailer sitting behind Papy’s tractor at the edge of the field.
The women were grumbling that there should be someone in charge of the buckets to save them from having to get up and down and then stretch up to the trailer, so Papy was given additional duties which put a swift end to his inspection and crowings….he was too busy coming and going, his pickers keeping him busy.

The first third of the vines had been cleared when Jean called a break.
Papy, the man of the moment, was prepared.
He had the mustard glasses ready….the ones that you buy which contain mustard and then can use for drinking ever afterwards…and the bottles were brought from the bucket which had been hanging in the well….that cool, soft pink wine went down very well the first time – and the second!

Papy went off with the tractor and trailor down to the press but for us it was back to work on the rest of the vines and the afternoon began to turn into evening by the time we had taken our second break and were on the last stretch.

Papy had taken another load, and this was the last, so we all trailed after him down to the house to wash our buckets and secateurs under the tap in the yard, stacking them to dry and then washing our sticky and stained hands.

The modern – well, reasonably so – press was full and in action, a long cylinder which acted a bit like a syringe…the plate at the end pushing inexorably forward, but gently enough not to start breaking the pips, which would add a bitterness which was not desired, squeezing the juice out through the pipe at the far end into an underground concrete tank where fermentation would take place.

The last of the harvest had to go in the old press, a round wooden structure with a central screw where the levels were adjusted with wooden blocks, a long metal pole turned the screw and the juice poured between the slats onto the platform of the press, thence to buckets placed underneath.

We were all heading for home when Mamie appeared from the doorway of the house.
‘Don’t forget….we’re all eating down at Jean’s tonight….I always used to do it, but I’m just getting too old.’
It appeared that I was invited to supper, and, checking with Jean’s wife, who seemed remarkably cool for someone about to entertain the multitudes, that was indeed the case.
‘Should I bring anything?’
‘Oh….well, one of your salads would be nice. Jean liked that.’

I hared home, scrubbed my hands with bleach and tried to wash and change while racking my brains to remember what it was I had served when Papy’s family had last come to supper and, worse, wondering if I had the ingredients in the house.
It occurred to me that it would probably have been my standby…..tinned chickpeas, red beans and flageolet beans, combined with diced onion, black olives and parsley with a good slosh of green and tasty olive oil. Store cupboard stuff.
I put it together and included the batch of pork pies I had made the day before for good measure and was ready at the gate when Papy hoooted to take me down to the village in his old Renault van.
He and Mamie sat in the front and the rest of us crouched in the back with our various offerings, swaying in unison on the corners and combining to keep Papy’s dog from pushing his nose into the dishes.

The tables had been set in the courtyard of Jean’s house, lit by those bamboo outside lights that flare and cast shadows at their own sweet will, and the women were already setting out the dishes they had provided.
The whole thing was a glorious buffet, home made pate, rillettes, rillons, ham and charcuterie, salads, bread and cheese and, of course, wine.

We ate, we talked, we drank, and, eventually, we sang.

My best memory of that long day is the quiet courtyard with the tenor voice of Pierre soaring into the shadows and the warm full response of the chorus as we sang

‘A la claire fontaine.’

A Passing Moment in La France Profonde

http://savvysommelier.wordpress.com/
http://savvysommelier.wordpress.com/

On a wet winter afternoon in La France Profonde the van of the Office Nationale de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) with responsibility for hunting, fishing and wildlife in general turns in to the farm and pulls up at the farmhouse door, which opens immediately.

Jean-Yves! Come on in out of this….

And the garde chasse, armed representative of ONCFS, nothing loathe, follows his host into the kitchen where the television is muttering to itself on a shelf by the door and the newspaper is open on the table.

I was wanting to see you…..but it wasn’t urgent exactly. I told the office that….

Well I was coming out this way anyway Victor….no, I’d better not have a drink…oh well, all right then, but not eau de vie…

Oh, coming to have a go at Alain again, were you…that’s a bit much…it’s persecution, that’s what it is. The office should be ashamed of itself!

Well, you know what I think about it…but that’s the job. He doesn’t have enough land to entitle him to shoot wild boar, even if they are ripping up his fields….

Wild! They’re not wild! It’s that notaire, Plouc…breeds them up there at Montcul for his fancy friends to shoot…too mean to keep his fences in order and then he kicks up when Alain takes a gun to one of them.

Yes, but you know how it is. He’ll probably be the next depute so no one wants to tread on his toes…

I wouldn’t be so sure…this guy we’ve got now, he might be a Socialist but he’s all right.

All right counts for nothing as well you know….by the time this government’s finished licking the banks’ backsides and sending guys out to die in Africa to keep a bunch of crooks in power just because they’re our crooks it won’t matter how all right he is…he’ll be out on his ear, with the rest of the party. So Plouc has to be kept sweet, according to the office.

We had a Revolution to change all that…not being able to shoot animals that were destroying our crops….

Well it didn’t work did it! Then they were nobles…now they’re politicians, businessmen, notaires… and all we can do is shut up and pay up!

They want putting up against the wall, the whole crew….and that reminds me of what I wanted to see you about. It’s those English.

Now come off it, Victor….this gun is to finish off a wounded animal or to defend myself…and whatever you think about your English neighbours they’re not wild animals and they don’t come within the scope of my duties!
What’ve they done, anyway? Complained about your chemicals running into their stream?

No, no..well, yes they have, but that’s not it.

What is it then if you don’t want me to shoot them…?

Well, when they came over in the autumn they had a friend with them who spoke some French…apparently he’s in the wine trade in London..and I gave them a glass of Albert’s white and there was a misunderstanding and they thought it was mine and the man was all enthusiastic and said he could sell it…

Good news!

Well it would be if Albert hadn’t got esca in his vines and is having to pull a lot up…
Anyway, he wanted to see my vines, so I showed him my plot down behind the sheds and he got all enthusiastic and said he could see it was organic…which is what they’re all crazy for it seems…

How could he see it was organic?

Well, it was a bit overgrown…you know how it is, with the farm to run I can’t be everywhere…
And then he asked how I made the wine…did I use special yeast, or sugar.
Well, you know, I’ve always made wine the way the old dad did…no point buying expensive yeast when it’s there already on the grapes…and I don’t use sugar…what’s the point, it’s not worth pushing up the alcohol level for a bit of vin courant for everyday drinking.

Apparently these organic buggers are as tight as a duck’s arse…won’t cough up for sprays or yeast or sugar….

Don’t you spray, then?

Course I do…bit of Bordeaux mixture left over from the potatoes – but he says that’s all right…that’s allowed.
Anyway, he reckons I could make a bomb if I advertise for people to ‘own’ a row of vines…they can come over and join in the vendange, have special labels for their bottles – whatever they like. He can organise that.

But what about the wine! Yours is nowhere near as good as Albert’s white….

They won’t know that! I haven’t worked it out yet but either I can buy in some good stuff with what they’ll be paying me….or I can just say it’s a bad year…or that organic wine doesn’t travel…
Look, if they’ve been boasting to their friends about having their own vines they’re not going to admit it’s shit…are they?
And there’s a fair bit of shit sold as top chateau wine, come to that!

True enough! I reckon Depardieu’s leaving for Russia before all the people who bought his wine want their money back!

Then he came up with another idea…and this is where you come in…

Oh yes! What’ve I got to do?

Well, he reckons organic is out of date…old hat…and the coming thing is biodynamic wine!

What the hell is that?

I’m not sure I’ve understood it all….but there’s some Austrian nutcase…

Hitler?

No..another one, but I expect he’s vegetarian too….
Well, anyway he came up with all this stuff about the harmony of things…you know, the rythmns of the moon and whatnot.

We all know that. You get your lunar calendar from Rustica and from the first quarter to the full moon you plant above ground stuff and from the full moon to the last quarter you plant your root veg…so what’s new?

Well these bobos…these trendies… don’t know anything about Rustica, do they! They want something exotic so they can think they’re spiritual or superior or something…
Go for anything if it costs an arm and a leg…but turn their nose up at something ordinary…

Anyway, he says this Austrian has special preparations to add to the soil….or to compost heaps.
I’ve plenty of nettles…

Well who hasn’t!

And there’s a clump of horsetail to make sprays…

That stuff!

And I can dig up the old woman’s cat to ferment oak bark in its skull as long as she doesn’t find out…
No problem for cow’s horns either… or the manure to ferment in it, though the mesentery might give problems with the way things are at the abattoir these days….

What are you gibbering about?

Well, he gave me a list. You do all this stuff then stir it all up and spray it on the soil..or compost heap..or on the plants and it’s supposed to put the vineyard in harmony with the universe.

You must be stark staring bonkers!

Well I’m not going to do all that, am I…but I need to have the stuff to show the punters!

And that’s where you come in.
I’ve got to use yarrow…well, I’ve got that along the hedge…but I have to ferment the flowers in a stag’s bladder and I was just wondering if…you being with ONCFS and all…. whether you could get me one when they have a cull…..