16 Sep 2010

The Grapes of Mirth (Part 1)

To the very tired list concept of '100 Things To Do Before You Die', I would whole-heartedly recommend les vendanges (grape-picking), a wine-process-related tradition that perpetuates an age-old custom documented in Greek and Roman mythology, that reconciles man and nature in a celebration of late-Summer/ early Autumn harvest before Winter takes hold.

With grape-picking you are faced with two requisites from the get go: to be physically fit and to find yourself in the proximity of a vineyard. In my case I couldn't hope for a better combination: my parents' house is within walking distance from a vineyard and, having challenged myself with the thought that I could cope with the physical demands of the task, I was resolute not to allow myself to be defeated.


The Muscat grape produces the nectar of dessert wines!
Relatives of mine have worked the vineyards in the past, from the Champagne to the Bordeaux and Fitou regions, as students, as a holiday job, or to top up their earnings. However their main reason was beyond financial considerations; it was mostly for the fun social aspects and the conviviality the experience brought. I was curious to try it for myself, and with the opportunity right there on my doorstep (well, almost), it would have been foolish not to attempt it.

So there was the low-down: a two-week, hourly-paid, grape-picking marathon conducted at a steady pace, with comfortable shoes a must and no skiving as an unspoken yet understood rule (so as not to interrupt the dynamic of the group), and with the guarantee of raised fitness levels and toned stomachs, legs and arms for each one of us by the end of the fortnight. Bonus!

In addition there was a more personal element as far as I was concerned. Grape-picking was going to allow me to get a grasp, albeit superficial, of what my maternal ancestors would have experienced for themselves as wine-makers in their day, as they picked the fruit of their year-long effort, the fruit of the vineyard they unconditionally tended. This is it, those two weeks were going to bring me a taster of my elders' pastoral lifestyle.


The fun and the hard graft started conjointly early on 6th September. First of all I wasn't quite sure as to what or who to expect and soon enough I was facing a motley crew, a collection of social demographics that span late teens to early 70s, with a strong male majority, locals (I happened to know a couple of them) and then four traveller types heading from different horizons.

There was Flavie, a laid-back lone Swiss traveller girl who happened to be a graphic artist on the bohemian side of life who had travelled South America, Senegal and Gambia. And then there were three representatives of the former Eastern bloc (Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia to be precise) who also happened to be a collective of street artists/ farm-labouring and fruit-picking their way across Europe (Spain/ Canary Islands/ Ceuta, Sardinia, France) to help them finance their travels and free-spiritedness.

At first sight, one might have been forgiven for thinking those lads were extras out of a Rob Zombie film, but beyond the dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings, their easy-going/ positive attitude to life made them quite endearing to talk to. They were accompanied by a small hound of dogs, namely a teddy-bear-like husky, a pale-coloured fox-terrier/ jack-russell cross and two pit-bull crosses who were all equally laid-back as their owners and taking advantage of the calming effects of the vineyard and surrounding countryside. 'They are not stressed in Corsica, they like it here!' And their owners seem to enjoy the island's pace of life too! (to be continued)

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