Sunday, September 23, 2012

Le Vendange

As I lie lounging in bed just enjoying the kitties and pooches surrounding me on a lazy Sunday morning - Hank is still in Maine and Caleigh at a friends - I couldn't help but think how absolutely perfect this moment would be if only one of these little critters could bring me a large, creamy and sugar laden, Café American in bed. Fairly certain that my groggy wish was an impossibility, I stretched out my legs toward the side of the bed and as I began to stand up, they buckled and I probably would have fallen on my face if I had not lost my balance and teetered backwards, falling safely back on the bed, barely missing Ziggy the cat. "What the hell?" I wondered as the pain in my thighs returned. "Oh geez, right," as I remembered what I had done the day before and so embarrassed by how out of shape I was.

Yesterday was Sylvan's harvest (le vendange) of his few remaining acres of Sauvignon Blanc grapes that had not been destroyed in last Spring's frost. Rather than utilize the modern machinery that many large winemakers use to cultivate the grapes in minutes, many of the smaller and more organic vintners pick their grapes by hand, taking hours/days/weeks depending on the acreage. Since Sylvan has been invaluable in assisting Hank with the maintenance of our vines we eagerly offered to help when he invited us to join he and his family for the harvest that would be held some time in September. Unfortunately, it happened to hit on a weekend when Hank would be out of the country, but I decided what the hell, I would still help out because he's such a nice guy and plus, he once said that I looked like Lynette (Felicity Huffman) from 'Desperate Housewives.' Flattery will get you everywhere, including a free day laborer during harvest season.

So, the big day arrives and I'm up early and hoof it over to where I presume his Sauvignon Blanc vines are located. But, because it is me,  I actually go to the wrong Merlot field and cannot find anyone which elicits a fleeting hopeful thought that maybe the harvest has been cancelled and I will not have to go through the awkwardness of not knowing anyone and speaking french like a small child.

But, no, I decide not to quit quite yet and continue walking up the hill through more rows of vines when I see the cars and vans parked along the road and a few people hauling crates of grapes. "Great, I'm late," I cringe and imagine that they are all thinking I'm nothing but a lazy, city slacker, but when he sees me, Sylvan quickly greets and introduces to me to everyone, gives me a mini lesson on what to do and I jump right in: kneeling, picking, cutting, standing, picking out bad grapes and heaping the now perfect bunch into the nearby crates situated throughout the rows.  I immediately take to the rhythmic motion and slowly but surely, start working up my confidence until I'm actually keeping up with the 'pros' who have probably done this all their lives.
Temporary warning road sign commonly seen in September

Over and over, you just repeat the same actions, but there's usually someone on the other side of 'your' plant and you get into this kind of a groove of he cuts there, I cut here and hopefully no one cuts the other's fingers! I did hear "Attention de les doigts!" (careful of the fingers) quite a few times. At first, no one said much to me and I didn't really mind as it was nice not to have to think, but as the hours rolled on and the ice began to break, his wife or his mother would ask me a question in English, I would try answering in French and we continued chatting until another row was finished. Then we'd move over to the next one and I would find myself across from someone new and could thankfully use my same 'material' most likely covering the weather, where they lived, how many children we all had, who makes the best baguette, Karl Beyrand of course!). After about 5 hours, we broke for lunch and I decided to head back to the house so I could rest my weary body after a quick bite to eat. The problem with that decision was that I didn't awaken until many hours later and when I finally did, I could barely move my legs, let alone walk comfortably back to the fields. Since Sylvan had told me to feel free to stop working at anytime because he knew my father and Ginny were arriving later that day, my first time grape harvesting experience was now technically over. But, I will definitely do it again, especially next year when we will most likely harvest our very own grapes rather than hire an outside company as we had to do this year. And even though I know that we'll be lucky if we just come out even when you consider all of the manhours spent with the vines pruning (taille), tying (attaché), weaving (crochet), trimming (coupé), Hank would tell you otherwise, absolutely loving every moment spent with his grapes (even though they are not even his beloved red varietal)

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