It was still dark when I got up at 5.30 and got ready to go and start the vendange, the grape picking at the Mas de Daumas Gassac. This was yet another thing I had always wanted to do even though I knew it was going to be really hard, back-breaking work but at the same time I was sure it was going to be an unforgettable experience.
I was staying with a new couchsurfing friend, Eline, who very kindly got up as well and gave me a lift to the vineyard which was about 5 km away. I had planned to walk there but could see that in the dark this would have been extremely hard and I might’ve even got lost. Well, my head is so full of ideas that some of them are bound to be bad.
The small road climbed up the hill until we reached the front yard of the vineyard, already busy with tractors, cars and people going back and forth, readying themselves for the start of the harvest.
There was about 30-40 of us and in the semi-darkness we gathered in a small huddle like a bunch of grapes to receive our instructions for the day and a pair of secateurs that we were to look after and guard closely till the end of the vendange.
We climbed into the truck and drove to the first field where the boxes were already placed between the rows of vines, waiting to be filled tout de suite. By now there was just enough light to see the bunches of grapes and make out the difference between the stems and your fingers, an important fact I think. This didn’t stop the occasional cries of pain among the vines when people accidentally cut their fingers and ran off to fetch few plasters and then resumed the work with double speed to catch up with the others.
There was always two people cutting per row and depending who your partner for the day was, this could either slow you down or inspire you to reach new levels of speed when you tried to match their pace and at the same time keep all fingers intact. Add to this some lively, carefree conversation, mostly in French, and you are looking at every Health&Safety-officers nightmare. If you were in UK, that is. Here in France they don’t seem to bother about such little details, life is too short to worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet.
When a box was filled with grapes we left it where it was to be collected by a tractor and taken back to the chateau for further processing. The pace was relentless but the atmosphere stayed upbeat and jovial, despite the cold, rain, heat and cuts and scratches. This special feeling amongst our very international group was truly inspiring. And if you were talking too much or lagging behind the others, further ‘encouragement’ was provided by the boss, whom you didn’t want to disappoint. Ce n’est pas une holiday camp, you know.
The morning shift lasted about five hours after which we were driven back to the chateau for a tasty lunch and as much wine as you could manage to drink in an hour. Keeping in mind the afternoon shift and the safety of your fingers, of course!
Talking of which, here are my fingers after the first couple of days. Still got all five.
Looks harmless enough, doesn’t it?
What a beautiful sight!