Every October I see migrant workers with baskets laden with fruit strapped to their backs, crouching low to pick grapes. Though Switzerland may boast of some fine crus, nowhere is wine more divine than on the rolling hillside outside of Dijon where we lived for two years.
American children in Illinois, my home state, ,detassle corn as a rights of passage, whereas, French kids in the burgundy region of France pick grapes. Years ago, I accompanied my daughter’s fifth grade class, the day they helped harvest the grapes during the vendange. We weren’t picking just any old grapes – these were the world famous ones on Nuit-St. Georges domaine.
The vineyards on the Côte de Nuits on the outskirts of Dijon extending to Corgolion are 20K long and a few 100 meters wide. This strip of land, known as the Champs Elysées of Burgundy and Nuit-St. Georges, is the la crème de la crème of the Grand Crus Reds.
Originally, the vines grew wild and were pressed into wine by accident before 312 A.D. Image if the knotted ancient vines could talk the stories they would tell ?
Generations of French children will have their own tales of the harvest to pass on. The students skipped along the rows of perfectly aligned green vines that burst out of the dry, sandy soil and spilled down the slope toward the stone walls of the red-roofed village. Their small hands deftly clipped the vines that held the tight bunches of Pinot Noir grapes, while I struggled to bend low with an aching back.
While the winemaker explains the intricate process, kids couldn’t resist popping the tart, purple grapes into their mouths. Though I love grapes, these were thick skinned and sour and inedible. The wine grape differs form the table grape in that they are smaller and tarter.
Most French wine growers still hire help to pick the grapes by hand. I will certainly never forget my sole back-breaking, grape-picking stint. After spending a sun-kissed autumn day with wine growers, witnessing first hand their art, I will never again carelessly gulp a cheap red. Instead I savored each sip and appreciated the complexity between the vine and land, the wine and the winemaker.
As my French husband likes to remind me, « Life is too short to drink bad wine. »