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A couple of weeks ago friends who have a small patch of vines over the other side of the river in Sauternes issued their annual invitation to come and help them vendange.  As usual they were practically flattened in the rush to say yes and on Monday last week some 14 of us gathered to bring the grapes in.

The day goes likes this: everyone rolls up at about 9.30 for coffee and a chat.  If you have a pair of grape cutting scissors you bring them otherwise they’re issued, along with a bucket, by the patron.  At about 10 we start picking.  Or those who didn’t have a power cut which shorted the alarm clock do.  That was our excuse for turning up as everyone was returning from rows of perfectly picked vines and we’re sticking to it.  I reckon that another picker overslept; he claims the reason he was wearing pyjama bottoms to vendange in was because it didn’t matter if they got splashed with grape juice.  Yes, we all really belive that.

Inspecting the grapes

The next stage is settling down to strip the grapes off the stalks – bigger châteaux have people standing at sorting tables, this one has the workers on garden chairs chatting and being served coffee and biscuits by la patronne while they work.  The stripped grapes are then measured and put in a tank where, instead of using their feet,  the patron and his helper crush the grapes with a large oak stick.  This of course also helps to add a subtle tinge of oakiness to the year’s vintage.

Seriously downtrodden workers having a miserable time…

Some two hours later all the grapes are in the vat, the perennial question of whether we picked more than last year has been answered – yes, 43 buckets compared to 38, and after cleaning our buckets and clearing up we’re summoned in for lunch.  This is five courses, pumpkin soup, salmon mousse, chorizo and cous-cous, cheese and salad, peach crumble and cream for those who had room – most did, la patronne is a wonderful cook and you really don’t want to say no to any of her food.  At four o’clock we arose reluctantly from the table, we had dogs to let out, and were given a party bag to take home with us – half a case of last year’s rosé and white.

If only all party bags could be like this.

That was approximately three hours work followed by three hours lunch, an excellent work/play ratio in my opinion.  And we got given a present.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there isn’t already a waiting list for next year’s vendange.

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