Living in the middle of a vineyard in Bordeaux, France, it’s hard not to be curious about the lifecycle of the vines and feel the excitement when the harvest is just around the corner. From the outside looking in, there is definitely a romance attached to the idea of owning a vineyard and making wine, but the reality is quite a different one.
Working among the vines throughout the cold, misty and sometimes wet winter days, training and trimming in preparation for the season ahead, is certainly not glamorous. Although I love spending more time in the French outdoors these days (heading out in the freezing cold, or blazing heat of summer) keeping up with the natural progression of the grapevines isn’t for everyone.
This year hasn’t been an easy one for the vignerons, with a higher than normal amount of rain in Bordeaux during the Spring. In between the rainy days, there was a lack of hot, sunny days to naturally keep mildew and other diseases at bay. The good news is that years with tougher weather conditions like this one are a golden opportunity for the winemakers who want to stand out above the rest. Which means there are gems to be found.
People often ask us if the grapes are still hand-picked or machine harvested, and the answer is both. However, in our neck of the woods in the Entre-Deux-Mers, it’s mostly by machine.
The image of grape pickers working the vines, row by row, with big baskets on their backs and a handkerchief tied around their head to soak up the sweat is a classic. But alas, it’s a big, blue machine that does most of the hard work by straddling the vines and shaking the grapes from their stems.
Nevertheless, one well-known wine producer in the heart of the sweet Bordeaux wine country not only continues to harvest the old-fashioned way with hand-pickers, but grape by grape, to ensure a certain style and quality of wine. Can you imagine?
Enjoying the wine itself is obviously the best part, and one of the exciting events leading up to the harvest is the foire aux vins (or simply, wine sales galore). For the producers to make room for the latest harvest, it’s out with the old and in with the new.
Moving everything up the chain, from grapes in tanks, to bottling previous vintages, means there isn’t always enough storage capacity to hang onto cases of idle stock. So for us keen buyers, we’re ready to pounce on floods of wine that are about to hit the shelves at an attractive discount.
There are also vendange festivals all throughout the region, with the village of Saint Emilion hosting one of the more popular ones. The middle of September marks the official launch of the harvest season, where châteaux owners parade through town in bright red robes and release clusters of purple balloons from the top of an old stone tower to symbolise the grapes about to be plucked from the vines. There’s music, fireworks, a big feast, and of course gallons of local wine flowing across the tables; it’s a great excuse for a party.
Between the buzz of tongues wagging about this year’s vintage, and the hum of tractors and harvest machines working their magic in the wee hours of the morning, we’ll be out there amongst it soaking up the atmosphere. Santé!