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Vendange – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on September 30, 2021

Why is participating in the vendange important to me? In The Blood of the Colony (about wine production in Algeria) author Owen White explains, “To no form of cultivation did the French word “culture” better apply than to the grapevine: more than just a crop, it felt like a way of being.”  I want to be a part of this “way of being.”  I love the look of the rows of vines. I love the sense of place that the castle gives to the valley. I love the traditions, working similar to generations of people in the vendange at Pierreclos.

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2021/09/ira-katz/vendange/

By Ira Katz

I have a house in southern Burgundy, in wine country that is called by the appellation d’origine controlé (AOC) Macon Pierreclos. Therefore, I have many vignerons (winemakers) as neighbors, but the closest in distance (about 500m) and friendship is the Jambon family (Domaine Marc Jambon et Fils). The Jambones have a small operation. It is now run by the son (fils in french) Pierre-Antoine and his business partner Michel after Marc retired. Pierre-Antoine is the 8th generation to be making wine in Pierreclos.

This year I had the opportunity to participate in the vendange. Vendange is the French word for the grape harvest that will be used to make wine. The day began with a walk down the hill past the cows to meet the group at 7:45. The first order of business was to sign a contract. The wine industry is heavily regulated in France. I had no expectation of being paid, but it is known that gendarmes will check workers in the field for their contracts so Michel insisted. Our group of 12 consisted of Pierre-Antoine, various friends and the dog called Helium. That is to say, the vendange is the serious business that is the livelihood of Pierre-Antoine and Michel; but also a community gathering full of a light-hearted esprit de corps. After coffee we drove to a small parcel on the other side of the valley to harvest chardonnay grapes. Each row has two people (one on each side) cutting the bunches of grapes and collecting them in buckets. Another person, the porter, carries a very large bucket on his/her back (like a backpack) that collects the grapes from the cutters to transport them to a wagon pulled by the tractor for transport back to the winery. Thus, we did 5 rows at a time with two porters. The little clippers are very sharp. I sliced my fingers twice, drawing a lot of blood, because I did not have good technique. The light green-yellow grapes blend with the leaves and the bunches do not hang as you might imagine. The growth of the bunch can be in any direction. The bunches can also coalesce among themselves and around the support wires. The good technique first strips away the leaves to have a good view of the bunches and obviously keeps fingers away from the cutting. We finished the first parcel just after noon (including a break for pastries). The group lunch (beef bourguignon of course) was good and convivial. The afternoon session was down in the valley not far from the medieval castle, theChâteau de Pierreclos. The dark burgundy red pinot noir grapes were much easier to see and my improved technique kept my fingers out of harm’s way. We finished this parcel about 4:00 in the afternoon, returning to the winery to follow the process of pressing the grapes. By this time my back was extremely stiff and I was exhausted. Thankfully, one of our group drove me back up the hill to my home. A cold beer, a shower, and I was in bed by 7:00. The next day we were again down in the valley but picking white chardonnay. I was being very careful, but my partner nicked me pretty good. My back was sore and I was very tired walking back up the hill to the winery and lunch. There was some more to be done in the afternoon, but given the choice I went back home (wisely I drove this day) to a long nap.

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Ira Katz [send him mail] lives in Paris and works as a research engineer for a French company. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.

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