Grape Harvest : A Toast to « Vendagers »

After so much wine tasting, you might feel the desire to know more about the process of winemaking.

Become a « vendager » – Grape

Become a « vendager » is one of those processes. There isn’t any set social description of a « vendager ». There is a whole variety of people who join the « party ». Some are migrant workers going from one harvest to another following the weather and the crops. Others are third generation vine pickers, doing it because their great- great grandmother worked the world renowned vineyards. Some are college students wanting to bring in an extra bit of money. Some are even world travelers, wanting to get more out of their French experience.

Harvesting grapes manually is most often used for fine wines and especially for sparkling wines or Champagne. Even though it’s more expensive, some wine producers choose manual vine picking because it allows the workers to choose healthy grape clusters and gently handle grapes.

It’s sweaty backbreaking work – hmm a lot like cycling. It doesn’t take a lot of skill, just a great amount of perseverance. The days are long; starting early when it’s cool, but lasting long into the hot hours of the afternoon.  Or long days sloshing in mud that accumulates under their boots after rain. Vine pickers use sharp pruners to select ripe and delicate clusters and place them delicately into tubs or crates. A wrong move and their hands get nicked. The work is back-breaking as vineyards are knee or hip level, and the ripe grapes are near the bottom.

If a vendager is not picking the vines, they’re carrying the baskets full of those purple gems. They are literally lifting thousands of them – Another torture for the back. But changing job positions is usually seen as relief.

Being a vendager is rewarded by a “party” – Grape Harvest

Being a vendager is rewarded by a “party”.  Or that is what it looks like.  Crews are a jolly lot.  Singing and laughing through the labor.  And since the French like their food so much, the day usually starts with a hefty breakfast of cheese and meat cuts, of course served with wine. And the day finishes with delicious meals, again served with wine.

So the next time you raise your glass, give a toast to the hard workers that put so much effort into that fine wine.  Here’s to Vendagers.