The harvest of the grapes has started. Château de Boursault behind is the only château in Champagne. You find it just outside the village Cramant i the Côte des Blancs.
It is just before the vendange starts. The first village in the Côte des Blancs will start on monday (September 12th), and here in Montagne de Reims the harvest of the grapes kicks off from September 15t). With both Chardonnay, that mature early, and Pinot Meunier, that mature later, we need to make a choice that favours both types, so we start on an untraditional saturday (September 17th).
This means, that the normally quite sleepy winevillages in the area now start to wake up for the only week during the year that bursts of activity. The preparations are ongoing everywhere.
Cleaning of the year
Our neighbour on one side has been busy cleaning the vendangeoir of the neighbour on the other side to make it ready to accommodate the people, that will come to pick grapes and carry and drive them to the press. And I wonder if not aunt Monique and Annie are busy with broom and bucket in Soulières as well.
A small truck delivered supplies such as food, drinks and toiletpaper for the neighbour this morning, and just an hour ago the greengrocer guy from Brittany passed by with his van.
Harvest à la ancienne means a lot of life and fun in the farms. The normal population grows multiple times, because the winepickers live there during the harvest. Part of their salary is board and lodging, which makes the daily shopping and cooking a rather extensive job during the harvest. However it is eased somewhat with a good sense of logistics. For instance, why not get your Charlotte-potatoes delivered in 25 kilo-bags instead of dragging them to the car yourself after a visit in Carrefour or Leclerc.
Plannning and logistics
In Soulières our chef, Annie, studies her old dog-eared note book. The idea of keeping track of proportions and recipies comes from sister-in-law Martine. Today the little book has developped into a bit of a goldmine of information about the vendange for the last 20 years as experienced from the kitchen.
The cheese Maroilles with green salad is typical for the vendange.
He - or she - who has tried to cook for many knows that you do not estimate the necessary amounts in quite the same way as you do for a family of four. Then on the other hand during this week you need to keep fysically hard working bellies happy, both when it comes to quantity and variation.
This is why good planning and well-run logistics probably cannot be overstated. So the breton is very welcome, and the freezers emptied as much as possible to leave some space for the deliveries from supermarkets and wholesales.
In our place we prepare everything ourselves, but there are others that get the food from catering-companies, go to restaurants or simply hire people who can take care of their lodging and meals themselves.
The travelling people
This year our winepickers are recruited from Normandy, and on top of that there are some local people as well that already work in farming, others are just interested in the vendange.
Others engage teams that manage themselves. Some of them from Eastern Europe, others are gipsies or with a translation of the French term: "The travelling people". And the first of them have already arrived, since this morning an old gipsy woman with a dark brown face as wrinkled as an apple from last year sounded the bell at our gate to sell kitchen towels.
"N'ai pas peur", she said once the gate was open. I do not know if I looked frightened - or why I should. Maybe it is just her regular conjuration of people like me. I did not buy any of her ugly and cheap looking things but I regretted it almost straight away. I do not envy the gipsies their wandering, marginal life. Freedom or whatever you'd call it to make it sound nicer.
Chardonnay with evening sun, Verzy September 3rd.
With the food, drinks and lodging ready and the workers on their way, only the grapes now have to finish their maturation. And then of course the final quantity to pick be settled.
On a big meeting in Épernay in the end of last week the winegrowers suggested to take 13.000 kilos per hectare, hence a small part - 1.600 kilos - for blocked reserves. Now the authorities must decide the final number.
It is not the winegrower himself but a body under the French ministry of agriculture that has the final say about the amount of grapes that can finally be turned first into wine and then into champagne. A fact that may cause twitching in the competition genes of some Danes and maybe even make them ask if this tight control explains why a bottle of champagne is that expensive?
Of course there is not doubt that the limitations help to keep the supplies of champagne down, which must affect the prices. On the other hand it helps securing the quality of the final product as well. The thinning of the grapes during the summer - the so-called green harvest - raises the quality of the remaining grapes. Says theory anyway.
The latest reports from the fields as follows:
Nothing left to say but: Please go ahead and pick!