September 13, 2014

Grape Harvest in Burgundy Vineyards Day 1

The blood gushing from the very tip of my left ring finger immediately made me wonder if my harvesting experience was over after three hours. I had just snipped a vertical slash in my finger, the point of my clippers catching flesh right after cutting through the stem of a bunch of pinot noir grapes. I have a bad history with my own blood, and quickly went through my mental checklist of potential trouble: the wound didn't look deep, it didn't hurt, I wasn't turning green, and I didn't feel like I was about to pass out. It seemed that I was going to be able to soldier on.
Penis finger
I had signed up for six days of harvesting grapes with the Domaine Cluzeaud, a wine making family located in Volnay, a small village in southern Côte d'Or, Burgundy, France. My wages were to be an impressive nationally mandated minimum of 9.53 euros an hour for 8 hours a day. 

As the days pass, I will update on different aspects of the experience. Tonight, let's look at a couple of rules about harvesting grapes that will be turned into wine in France.

Rule #1: Drinking on the job will most definitely NOT get you fired. It will more likely be used as evidence of your dedication to the cause.

After our first couple of hours cutting grapes, we took a pause for the casse-croûte, or mid-morning fortification snack. There was bread, salami, camembert, chocolate, water...and the 20-something boss of the operation pouring healthy doses of 13 year-old white wine into plastic cups for the 35 assembled team members. Red quickly followed, leading one small young woman to comment, "That's a little strong for this time of the day. I should have stayed with white." It was 9:15am. Throughout the day, various laborers could be seen swigging from wine bottles in the rows of vines. 

Pinot noir
Rule #2: Drinking during lunch will be widely sanctioned throughout the harvest.

At 11:33, we left the vineyeards to return to the home office, the Cluzeaud's house in Volnay, where they were lodging about 25 of the laborers and feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. As a day laborer, I was part of the lunch crowd. Appéritifs flowed (kir, the ubiquitous cocktail of Burgundy: white wine and crème de Cassis) as men unloaded full crates of grapes and women smoked. We were soon at the table, where glasses were filled with white wine. Red (from a box! Merlot! Not even Burgundy!) followed, and the patriarch of the domaine tried (without luck) to get me to have a digestif.

Rule #3: It is definitely not a problem to take a two hour lunch break. 

First, we had a salad of hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, and onions. This was followed by grilled pork chops with a delicious brown sauce and pasta. Cheese -- of course -- came next, four varieties from which to choose, and finally a cherry clafoutis before our coffee. Start to finish? 120 minutes, on the dot.

First course

Lunch in the caveau


Rule #4: Speaking French or English is not a requirement.

This year's crop of laborers is dominated by young Polish girls, who wear t-shirts that say "Live by the gun, die by the bullet," and weird sweat pants to complement their cheap sneakers. They spoke mainly mime and Polish, but seemed nice enough and didn't complain. I guess you have a good work ethic when you leave the dreamy comforts of Poland to come to Burgundy and cut grapes for minimum wage.

In the vines
Day One Injury List:
Cut finger
Sore knee joints
Lower back in excrutiating pain
Right thigh raw from placing right forearm on it all day
Knees skinned from wearing shorts and kneeling (jeans tomorrow)
Thighs sore from too much cathcer's crouch

No comments:

Post a Comment