Grab a bucket and follow me out to the vines today. Got a casquette? Sunglasses? Courage? Good, you’ll need them! Now reach into the truck for a pair of sécateurs and some gants. Go ahead, choose a row of vines – there are so many! Set your bucket beside and old syrah vine, its leaves flapping from the Mistral. Feel the wind whip off your hat and gasp as you watch it billow over a field of vines. That’s one less comfort – you’d better get used to it!
Reach for a bunch of grapes. Take precautions (distinguish your fleshy fingers from the fruit). Now position your shears and clip – watch the vine spring back, unburdened of its load. As for you, you’ll carry that weight, bucket by bucket, until the sun goes down. Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two, three…
By the eighth or ninth vine, you reach to your sore back and let out a nervous chuckle – mumbling something about how you ought to take up yoga. Now look up, amazed at the reality before you: an interminable field of vines! Mon Dieu! Whatever gave you the idea that harvesting French grapes was a romantic occupation?
Thump! You’ve stumbled again. Take your pick of some juicy French expletives you’ve learned from the pickers. Curse the knee-high weeds that trip you up, leaving scratches, blood and swelling. You’re told that weeds are a sign of organic farming, but by now you’d gladly dowse the field with Roundup weed killer – anything to get through this jungle alive!
Continue to bend, stoop and sometimes sit to collect grapes which are hiding under the twisted canopies of leaves. Chuck the damn fruit into the bucket, push yourself back up off the ground and get a move on! This isn’t a vacation, c’est la vendange!
What’s that? You need to use the ‘powder room’? Well, la-di-da! No time to be a prude – just drop your drawers right here! Huh? Worried someone might see you? Well, then, off you trot, in search of a big bush at the end of the field while your fellow harvesters giggle and snort. Oh, go on, do it here, nobody’s watching…
Back to work now and, shhh, don’t talk so much. See that guy with the ponytail? That’s my brother-in-law, the buckets-checker – make sure that yours is full, and don’t blame the dull shears or he’ll teach you an old adage: “Il n’y a pas de mauvais outils, il n’y a que de mauvais ouvriers!” (“There are no bad tools, only bad workers!”)
“Ten more buckets and you’re done!” That’s my husband, Jean-Marc, alias ‘Chief Grape’. And, no, he’s not talking to you, ‘Grapehead’, rather to our son, who’s just got himself a ticket out of here, in the form of homework.
As for you, brave recruit, we have YOU for the day. Now straighten up! Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two, three… welcome to harvest boot camp!
La vendange = grape harvest
La casquette = cap
Le sécateur = pruning shears
Le gant = glove
Les mauvaises herbes = weeds
Kristin Espinasse writes the popular French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on a wine and olive farm near Bandol.
From France Today magazine