We soon discovered what back-breaking work it is. The vines come up to the middle of your chest, roughly four foot tall. The grapes we are interested in are those below the top supporting wire, so generally from three and a half feet down to the ground basically. So harvesting the grapes involved bending either the back (not a clever idea) or more often the knees, which soon started playing havoc with the backs of everyones legs. We all had a little trolley with two of the grey tubs pictured above, which we filled then returned to the tractor to swap our full tubs for two empty ones. Each tub holds roughly 12 kilos of grapes. While in the vineyard we were to try and remove as much "pouritoure" or mould as possible. Once the trailer was full with fruit then it returned to the chateau where the fruit would undergo a triage before being de-stemmed then a second triage before going into the vats.The fruit looked to be in quite good condition, there was very little mould, some bunches were starting to raisin a bit, but we were told by the "foreman" that this was a good sign and the juice would be more concentrated. At first we were all working quite quickly, moving through the row snipping the fruit from the vines and making numerous journeys backwards and forwards to the trailer. But after about an hour or so, the novelty soon started to wear off, knees were creaking, backs were starting to twinge, fingers were being cut and scratched. We stopped for a break, and they set up a picnic table with a range of pastries, mini baguettes filled with ham and cheese or saucisson, coffee, tea, water, beer and several bottles of Mouton Cadet. Luckily the weather held out, and although overcast it stayed dry, and several times the sun poked through, gradually encouraging everyone to shed layers of clothing until t-shirts remained.
It was bloody hard work picking the fruit, and I think we were all glad when the foreman starting directing those who had finished their rows to help others finish theirs before we headed back to the chateau for lunch.
Lunch was a big affair, held in the tractor sheds, huge rows of tressle tables laid out with plates, baguettes and cutlery. Once everyone was seated, you could see there was a right mixture of people gathered for the harvest - students, travelling peoples, locals, farmers, young and old. Then an army of wifes and girlfriend of staff all swarmed into the room dispensing a starter of ham and cornichons, before the main course of green beans and steak, grilled on massive barbeques in the back yard of the chateau. A small wedge of cheese and an apple completed the repasse and was all washed down with a little quarter bottle of Mouton Cadet Merlot. Edouard told us the 1/4 bottles were introduced this year after a horrific crash involving a vendageur who had overindulged in the wine over lunch.