Looking out across the cheerful waters of the Thames from my garden, wine glass in hand, with the swans and their cygnets gliding by, thoughts drift from time to time to my wine's origin in the hot dry vineyards of southern France.
The area through which l'Impressionniste and Anjodi sail is covered by France's biggest vineyard, which produces 40% of France's wine. In a couple of months time, those vineyards will be a hive of activity.
Harvesting the grapes traditionally occurs during September and is a fast and furious race against time. The enemy is the oxidisation and premature fermentation of the grapes before arrival at the wine press, so the team of grape pickers has to be lively and strong, conscientious and discerning. A bit like our crew members!
Although it is possible to pick grapes mechanically with special machines which can harvest 10-20 acres a day, many farmers feel that picking grapes by hand is the best method, even though it is much slower (four grape-pickers can collect about one acre of grapes a day).
The trick of harvesting is to only pick ripe bunches, which have the ideal sugar/acid balance and get them to the wine press as soon as possible. The picking days start early in the morning and can go into the night, depending on the weather conditions.
The labour force comprises grape pickers, porters (or "heavies"!) and transporters, along with accompanying fan-clubs, masseuses and wine-and-sympathy pourers.
The grape pickers have the finicky job of selecting the ripe bunches and cutting them off the vines, leaving the right amount of stalk on the bunch. It's messy, sticky and stains your clothes, so you need a trendy plastic suit if you don't want to get plastered.
It also subjects your body to some rather awkward contortions as you try to get to that awkwardly situated bunch.
The heavies are the ones who have to carry the bunches to the tractor in huge panniers, which, when full, weigh between 30 and 40 kgs (60-80 lbs). Now you can see why I mentioned the masseuses.
The regular breaks for sustenance are perfect times to massage aches and pains, exchange a few kisses (because you know these French are great romantics!) and have a glass of wine which is well known for its healing and resuscitative qualities!
The transporters have to take all the bunches of grapes to the wine presses. Although nowadays lots of farms have huge washing-machine-like presses, there are still farms where the old-style presses are used and even some places where people tread the grapes with their bare feet. It's not as easy as you'd think - treading grapes with your bare feet - they are very heavy to wade around in and they come up to the average person's thighs.
Not only that but with several of you in the vat and everyone else standing around singing to keep up the rhythm, you have to get used to getting up close and personal with people.
After several days of hard labour, everyone is keen to have a good old knees-up, a filling meal of Cassoulet and copious glasses of wine to celebrate their achievements and wish good luck to the new vintage!
With all these imaginations passing before my mind's eye, I sometimes ask myself if the grape pickers ever look up from their work when l'Impressionniste or Anjodi go by, with passengers in mid-sip of a glass of Picpoul de Pinet, and think "I wonder if they are drinking my wine?"
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