Here in France, another glorious vendanges season has wrapped!
Les vendanges refers to the time of year when the grapes grown for wine are in full bloom and ready to be harvested. Given the varying climates and altitudes found in the different terroirs of France, harvest time is not exactly the same everywhere. However, the general starting period of les vendanges begins around the end of August (this year, in the famous Champagne region, it started on the August 29th) and typically finishes the beginning of October.
To give you a more intimate look into what the wine harvest really entails, we popped over to the domaine Dominique Bliard-Labeste. Read on below to discover a day in the life of a wine harvester in France!
Dominique Bliard and Bernadette Labeste embarked on the creation of their winery in 1989 by combining their families’ vineyards. Their estate has expanded gradually and now includes around seven and a half acres of vineyards in the birthplace of the bubbly delicacy: Hautvillers. Since 2016, their sons, Thibaut and Florian Bliard, have taken on the development and growth of the brand – straight into its sparkling future.
In addition to their business duties, both join in to help the seasonal team of around 15 vendangeurs (wine harvesters) as they head into the vines to cut the grapes off by hand. Arriving at the vineyard at around 7 a.m. each morning, teams of two work their way down each vine and fill up their paniers (baskets) with the juicy fruits. Once filled, two strong, designated workers run down the row to retrieve it, dumping the grapes into crates on tractors.
After around two hours of back-breaking work in the chilly morning twilight, the pickers take a break with a large spread of bread, cheese, meat, coffee, and – believe it or not – champagne! This charges the team for another few hours, cutting away at the vines. Around noon, the team returns to the family home to eat a hard-earned lunch prepared with love by Bernadette, herself.
After lunch, the harvesters get back to the vines. These last two to three hours may be shorter in time than the morning shift, but the heat and fatigue starts setting in and challenges them as they push to the finish. However, the spirit of the team is typically strong and supportive, and they make it through with all smiles.
At the end of the day, it is a race to the showers! As you can imagine, after eight hours in the field, dirt and grape juice cakes up on the pickers’ skin and a nice, refreshing shower is exactly what everyone needs. That, and another glass of champagne, of course. Indeed, once all the harvesters are cleaned up, they retreat to the terrasse to share a relaxing moment with drinks and snacks at the apéro.
To finish the day’s journey, Bernadette cooks a large family dinner to refuel the team. Each dinner ends with cheese and a surprise dessert which never fails to delight. The long day followed by a great meal and a few glasses of wine puts everyone to sleep with no issue. Dominique then takes on administrative and grape pressing duties once all the vendangeurs have gone to bed. Then the next day, the process starts all over again! At Champagne Dominique Bliard-Labeste, the harvest lasts around 10 days.
The vendanges is surely a labor of love. Next time you pop open a bottle of bubbles, raise a glass to the seasonal pickers and family workers who help make this celebratory drink possible!
Visit the Dominique Bliard-Labeste’s website to see offered tours & tastings.