Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Vines

When we embarked on our travels more than 6 months ago, at the beginning of April, the landscape that greeted us here in France was full of fields dotted with brown stumps. Gradually, over the following weeks, a few touches of green appeared on them and now, as we return to France those leaves are slowly turning red and the heavy bunches of fruit are visible from the roads. They are of course the vines, and in a way they have marked our travels around Europe, a natural calendar charting the time scale of our trip.

Yesterday was my birthday, my 27th, but instead of a lazy day after 3 days of driving, we were up at 7 to take part in le vindage - grape picking. Jean-Christophe and Christiane are a little like a French version of the Larkins, except they have fewer chilren and probably pay their income tax. Their little farm about 5 minutes from Cathy's is a menagerie of donkeys, horses, chickens, ducks, patridges, pigeons and finches, while they grow sunflowers, grapes, oilseed and plums.

We and about a dozen other people - friends, family, neighbours - were helping them pick grapes for their own home-made red and rosé wines. There was no cash payment involved, just endless food and as much booze as was safe to drink while wielding a pair of secatuers. Beers were handed round the vines by way of mid-morning refreshment, while the four-course lunch was preceeded by copious potent apertifs of which Pa Larkin would have approved. Lunch itself was accompanied by the house vintage and afternoon tea (complete with pastry turned into a birthay cake for me) was washed down with sweet cider. When we were invited back for dinner (along with half the neighbourhood) and of course, more booze. Perfick!

The work itself wasn't hard - 3 hours in the warm morning sun then another one and a half in the afternoon when there were even more helpers got the job done.
Christophe stacked the crates on his forklift, emptied them into a machine to separate the grapes from the stems and got the fermentation process under way. Naturally all this was done in a very French way - everyone watching, momentarily taking charge or giving advice. Vastly entertaining for us though. All the gloom and doom in the news about the financial markets seems a world away from this rural idyll of helpful neighbours, home brew and rustic feasts. A perfick birthday.

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