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. »
Ah, once again you bring back treasured memories of the days when we would drove up the lakeside of Lac de Geneve amidst the colorful, turning leaves of the vineyards, occasionally stopping along the way at quaint roadside caves for tastings. Gerald is absolutely right that “life is too short for bad wine.” I still look for the best wine I can buy for under $10! You’re making me homesick for those days gone by. Have a glass for me of the red stuff!
What a lovely parallel to draw between the French and Illinois children! We always think what another country does is so “exotic” and the French probably think de-tassling corn is interesting (or not, they are French after all).
Thanks for this glimpse into your life there. I will have a glass of wine and tell this story when I see my friends tonight.
Most French people have never heard of detassling or corn on the cob. Wine, cheese, chocolate alas, corn is not high on the French hit list; however, my Frenchman fell in love with corn on the cob on his first summer trip to Illinois. When you gather with your friends to raise a glass, toast to your health. Santè from Switzerland!
Hmmm, all this time, my wine has been missing something- now I know, it’s all in the vines!
Thanks Pat, harvesting grapes for that perfect bottle of wine seems a labor of love. I suppose I’ll have to indulge in the good reds at some point:)
According to the French, wine is not a drink, it is an experience, and that is why every fine meal must be accompanied by a good bottle. That said, most of my American friends find the best French wines too dry or bitter, and much to my husband’s chagrin, my sisters still prefer Zinfandel! ha
If you ever get over the Big Pond, you would be an honored guest at our table!!!
Your husband is right,”Life is too short to drink cheap wine”! I will think of those children in the vineyards the next time I sip a glass of wine. You have painted such a lovely picture, so rich in detail, giving me the sense that I am there,tasting those grapes. I feel like I am touring the countryside whenever I read your posts 🙂 Delightful, as always!
The dollar is so weak right now, you could probably buy a decent French burgundy there for pennies more than it costs over here. Here’s to your health, dear friend. Enjoy!
Wine is one of those drinks that is either good or undrinkable. When it’s not good it’s terrible, mostly. That’s why I’m a bit conservative when it comes to trying out all kinds of different wines, because every once in a while you hit upon a bad one, and I like my wine hours so very much.
Oh so true, Laurent. Which wines are big sellers in the Netherlands? What kind of wine is your favorite?
I always enjoy the imagery of your writing. What a great experience for those children. Perhaps they will recall its significance when they are older and far away from their homeland.