What a week!
I participated in my very first harvest last week in Champagne by volunteering my time for two great families.
On Monday afternoon, for two hours, we set out for the village of Damery to cut beautifully ripened Pinot Meunier grapes. The work of cutting grapes is exactly that – work. For the first hour, I was doing well and learning how to clear the leaves to find the bunches. Then, how to cut (hold the grape bunch first then cut) alongside of the person cutting the same vines as you but on the other side of the row. So, watching where you were snipping was pretty damn important.
There are two ‘ways’ of cutting grapes in regards to your posture. The first is to crouch down with one knee on the ground. The other is to simply bend over. With not the strongest of knees, I bent down and after an hour my back was screaming at me in anger. So, I switched it up and did the one knee thing which didn’t make it any easier! My hands were covered in juice and grape pulp and I was all too happy that I decided on wearing my Kamik rain boots from Canada – they were perfect and comfortable.
I learned that if I cut myself, to put grape juice on the wound and it would heal quickly – very cool. There were many spiders in amongst the leaves and vines, but, if you cut fast enough, they don’t have time to come and take a bite out of your fingers (and I was told that the spiders don’t bite so that was very reassuring). I wondered quietly about the generations of people from Champagne and how the methods of farming have changed and remained the same…
I was asked, “Christine, did you ever think you would be harvesting grapes in Champagne?” Great question, Quentin. I had to think for a minute and I replied that it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would be living in Champagne, picking champagne grapes alongside of some of our new friends…it was a dream come true.
The next day was a writing day for me so I went in the afternoon and helped out for about one hour. We took Wednesday day off to hang out and go for a walk.
Thursday, at 7:30 AM, we were up and at it again for a whole day and with another crew and set of vineyards – this time in Courcourt (my village). This day put a full day of ‘vendange’ work into perspective…I got to see how my body reacted to the repetitive movements and how the workers are treated – VERY well.
After about 1.5 hours, at 9:30 AM, we stopped for breakfast. It consisted of three types of pâté, two cheeses, two baguettes with a choice of champagne, red wine or water to drink. My back was screaming at me again so, yes, I downed a full glass of delicious bubbly and felt that all was right in the world.
We worked again until 12 Noon at which time we headed back to Fabienne’s for a four course meal she had prepared – tuna loaf with fresh baguettes to start, roasted chicken and rice as the main, a selection of cheeses and then incredible tiramisu for dessert. For drinks – you guessed it – champagne, red wine, beer, rosé and water. Lunch lasted for about two hours and we headed back to the vines. My body simply isn’t as fit as I’d like it to be and I had to call it quits at 4 PM.
I have developed a great amount of respect for all people who work in the vineyards. I applaud the attention to detail and the adherence to regulated and strict guidelines. We saw policemen on horseback walking along the tops of village vineyards to ensure that all was in order and everyone was safe.
I appreciate the flow of how the grapes are cut – if you haven’t seen it before – the ‘vendangers’ move in an almost solid horizontal line – two people to a vine – and systematically and in tandem, complete rows at the same time. In Champagne, it is mandatory that all grapes are hand harvested – no machines are allowed.
It just so happens that this year has been an incredible year for the Champagne region – excellent weather at harvest, a great growing season with lots of sunlight and not too much rain as well as cool nights. The grapes have excellent sugar and acid levels – I saw many broad smiles when grape sugar levels were being tested in the vineyards. I am hoping it will be a ‘Vintage’ or ‘Millésime’ year and I know what I will be stocking up on in Vancouver once the 2018’s are released to market!