Saturday, 18 September 2010

Vendange manuelle

It’s surprising how many friends one bumps into at the excellent Pézanas Saturday market despite the crowds who flock there in season. The Cores from Mas Gabriel in nearby Caux (my previous posts here) were taking it relatively easy for a few days having bagged the Carignan Blanc vendage and were waiting for their red varieties to ripen. Would you like to come and do some picking? was almost a passing comment. After a quick assessment of my back (now improved having quit a 30 year career sat at a keyboard or in meetings) along with a “is this a polite invitation or a time of need call” I said yes.

The day started at 7 a.m. when it’s just light enough to see a bunch of grapes. The training course at three sentences was the shortest I’ve ever experienced. 1. Cut the bunches with the secateurs next to the cane as this will free two bunches at once (at least it does with Syrah). 2. Put the bunches into your bucket that can be emptied into cagettes (basically airport x-ray machine bins) strategically placed between the vines. 3. Finally, and most importantly, no grappons – these are small unripe bunches on thin tendrils resulting from later growth and flowerings.

Day 1 young syrah. Picking is done in groups of 2 or 3 to a row so the trained vine can be tackled from both sides and to make it a social event. Young vines are green harvested to give three bunches and avoid overstressing the vines. They also have relatively few leaves so easy pickings – this is definitely low hanging fruit. Picking was faster than tractor transportation to the winery so stretch breakes seemed frequent. Cloud rolled in by lunch time and kept the heat down. Before 3.30 p.m. it was job done. 1750 litres of de-stemmed grapes and juice. At the post analysis beer consumption meeting the forecast rain for the next day was discussed. Solution was to find an internet site ( that wasn’t forecasting rain.

Day 1 sunrise

Off to the winery

Day 2 adult syrah. A few more vines and a couple of less pickers. Denser foliage and more bunches made for slower picking than transport capacity so less breaks. Young girl whizzes along with Edward Scissorhands action - turns out she's done some hairdressing. Post lunch was clearly an effort with concentration needing to overtake conversation. The sun was out now. Even so, by 4 p.m. it was job done.

Day 2 and job done. Unfortunately one picker is incapable of standing.

Meanwhile, back at the cave.

For a different perspective do see Rosemary George’s account of the Mas Gabriel white harvest.


  1. Sounds like (hard working) fun, Graham. I keep telling myself that I will do a vintage one of these years. I have plenty of growers to choose from - all I need is the time off work (or not to have a job that gets in the way)!

  2. Can anyone help me find work in Roquebrun this September please! J'ai visité Roquebrun en Juillet et acheter du vin à partir de monsieur et madame Claparade. Je cherche à travailler à Roquebrun, la collecte de raisins en Septembre. Pouvez-vous me dire qui je dois contacter pour leur demander s'ils ont encore besoin de personnes pour les vendarges. Merci beaucoup. Je me réjouis de vous entendre
    Karen & Richard