Vive les Vendanges
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
Vive les vendanges! Yay for the grape harvest! I love this time of year, and one of the very best things about it is the vendanges. Early fall means it's time to pick the grapes for this year's wine vintages. Depending on the weather, this usually falls around the middle of September.
Our local winemaker and friend, Emilien Fesquet of Domaine La Grand’Terre, invited us to take part in his vendanges again this year. Quel privilège!
The day started around 9 am, gathering at his family's home, surrounded by vineyards that extend quite a way around the borders of our town. We began with an informal petit déjeuner: coffee, juice, and a large fougasse, a special bread unique to this region. I didn't think to take a photo, but this one was quite large and loaded with lardons, small pieces of fatty bacon. Fresh from the bakery that morning, it was delicious!
So you get the idea, I found this photo:
An hour or so later, Emilien's father handed each of us a pair of clippers, and the group of family and friends started heading out to the fields. Emilien reserves a section of his vineyard to be harvested by hand and made into a unique vintage. These Carignan vines were planted 55 years ago by his grandfather. So special!
Plastic crates were spread along the designated rows, and we started in on the vines. In the past, we worked under bright blue, sunny skies. This year, dark clouds hovered and threatened rain, but we worked all morning without a drop coming down. The temperature was quite pleasant.
Unlike last September, there were already tinges of crimson and amber on the grape leaves this year. So lovely!
The searing heat of summer came late this year, but with full force, and many grapes had shriveled into raisins on the vine. We also had a great deal of rain throughout the last several months. Bending down low and lifting large leaves revealed lovely ripe clusters tightly hugged to the vine. I had to pry them off, crushing a few in the process. We all had sticky juice-covered hands by the end of the end morning. And, of course, we had to taste them, especially as a bit of hunger set in. Delicious!
It was such a pleasure being out among these vines, surrounded by all ages. Some friends came from as far as Montpellier or Aix-en-Provence to take part in this unique tradition. Once our crates were full, we handed them up to Emilien and his colleague Aurelien on the narrow tractor as they drove through the rows. They distributed emptied containers, and we continued.
My husband mostly spent his time taking photos and throwing dried grapes at people. We would have never dared to start such a thing! But, the first year we took part in the vendanges, it was the French adults who began the grape tossing. Apparently, it's part of the ambiance, and the kids of all ages love it.
After a couple of hours, we finished, and more than one person mentioned they were thirsty–meaning ready for apéro, the before lunch apéritif. I love life here!
We tromped back to the house, and drink and nibbles soon appeared. Again, I wish I'd thought to take photos, but I guess I was too busy enjoying the food and the people. With their typical generosity, the Fesquet family put out quite a spread, including homemade boar and rabbit pâtés, prawns to dip in homemade mayonnaise (which is nothing like store-bought), dried sausage slices, plus a platter of crudités (fresh veggies) and dip. And as if this all weren't enough, there were finger sandwiches with various fillings: thinly sliced dried sausage and butter, sun-dried tomato spread, and more pâté.
Oh and little bite-sized amazingly delicious savory canapés. Oh là là!
Of course, there were unlimited quantities of Emilien's Domaine La Grand'Terre rosé or white wines, plus some other homemade bottles of sweet apéro wines appeared. I truly appreciate how God made the French! I'm not kidding! They know how to celebrate and mark a day with generosity and style, even when you're in work clothes and a casual atmosphere.
Eventually, we moved to the main course. An older couple (grandparents?) had worked all morning on an enormous pan of homemade paella. They served it from the lovely round stone table in the middle of the garden, and it was as delicious as it was beautiful. The saffron rice was perfectly prepared, as were the mussels, squid, prawns, and chicken. What an amazing treat!
As is tradition, we ate and drank slowly. No one is in any hurry for the next course or to leave. We have learned to treasure this aspect of French culture as well. As one of our friends said to us during our Paris days, "During the first hour, you speak of certain things, by the third, fourth, etc. hours, you share in ways you would not without spending that time together."
At some point, the cheese platters and more charcuterie appeared, which meant more baguettes and always more wine. The few droplets of rain through lunch grew into a downpour. Everyone grabbed a loaf, a bottle, their plates, and glasses and moved into the out-building where the grapes transform into wine.
The cheese course carried on; after all, it was only 4:00 pm by now. A little later, two large cakes appeared: one of chocolate mousse, the other of raspberry mousse. Délicieux!
I loved sitting in the wine-scented atmosphere, wit’s everyone now more tightly seated. At one point, Emilien and Aurelien worked on some of the already crushed and fermenting grapes in one of the huge vats next to our table. Draining and rinsing was involved–all adding to the general ambiance of wine-making and celebrating.
Around 5:00 pm, people started to trickle away, satisfied in body and soul. What an incredible blessing to share in this wonderful tradition; we are so grateful to our local friends.
La vie est belle!