17 Sep 2010

The Grapes of Mirth (Part 2)

The vineyard comes alive to those who work it. This feeling starts with the coveted grapes themselves; some bunches are easy to locate and separate from the plant, hanging nicely in one compact formation, while others play hard to get, hiding behind a thick cloak of vine leaves, interlaced with other grapes, twisting around branches and support poles in a curled-up embrace. On one single row and within a few yards of each other, it is interesting to note the difference in the quality, colour and ripeness of the grapes. Sun exposure, quality of the soil, availability of water (closeness to the nearby brook in this instance), the plant's personal gene-pool, resilience and level of human care it has received, all contribute to the end result.

The nearby brook, in late Spring 2010

The vineyard we were working was an eco-system of its own, despite the necessary yet reasoned chemical treatment it undergoes to fight disease. While some vineyards elsewhere on the island and further afield display a neat pattern of manicured vine rows with not a single weed in sight, courtesy of ruthless chemical action, here the balance between nature and culture seems to have been preserved and even encouraged. Rows are interspersed with a thick carpet of wild plants, which are hacked back once in a while. However their presence encourages a multitude of buzzing insects, which in turn encourage pollinisation and the 'general chemistry'.

Wasps and bees were buzzing around us, while an array of butterflies - some of which incredibly colourful and exotic - were gracefully fluttering about, attracted by the nectar seeping off the grapes. A multitude of crawlies were taking part in the fun too, some of those bugs looked like they had the potential to be vineyard destructors should their numbers had been higher, but somehow harmony balanced all the elements together (perhaps helped by the selective chemical treatment the vineyard had undergone for its own ultimate benefit).

Action-bee is go!

For all of us 14 grape-pickers, the highlight of the day was brunch (more than bugs, dare we say!). Brunch was the epitome of conviviality that brought us all together at around 11:00am, and was served in the tree shade by Dominique, the wine-maker's wife. She brought a cornucopia of savoury and sweet treats to keep us going, from fresh baguettes, assortment of cold meats, boiled eggs, plump tomatoes, pickled gerkins, French cheese for each one to customise into their own sandwiches, to pizzas, home-baked quiches, savoury cakes and flans, followed by fruit, pains au chocolat, apple tart, soft drinks and strong black coffee to round off the daily picnic.

Once she explained that she used to bring rosé wine along, but soon enough noticed that productivity would (predictably) decline after workers would down a dozen bottles (!) during the meal, so it was decided that alcohol would not be brought again...' However on the last brunch that we shared all together, the winemaker brought a handful of bottles from the 2008 millésime: Muscat, white wine and Rappu (a Corsican liquorous red wine slightly reminiscing of port. Let us note in passing that 2009 was a disastrous year for the wine estate, due to a combination of bad weather, plant disease and greedy wild boars who flocked down the vineyard at night to feast on the grapes!

Bursting with flavour: the Muscat grape

To those who ask me about the muscle-aching/ body-tiring/ wasp-stinging effects of grape-picking, I will not disapprove. I will quickly add though that these are only minor inconveniences, a finite part of what constitutes grape-picking. Believe me, the task brings more satisfaction and benefits than it does aches and sores. Think of the joys of the camaraderie that unites us all through the effort, the unbeatable closeness to nature, the benefits of working in the great outdoors, and the memories we'll cherish from the experience, all of which will bring wonders to our general well-being. By the way, see you next year, same time, same place!

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