September 16, 2014

Harvest: Day 3

So this is how it works. I showed up on the first day and Jean-Baptiste (whom I now call John the Baptist) called over all the first-time grape cutters. He gave us sécateurs, which I just realized (thank you, Internets) is a British term for pruning shears, and a black plastic bucket (seau in French). 
Take these shears. Cut grapes. Put grapes in bucket. Repeat forever.
He said, "Here is what you do: pull the leaves of the vines off because they hide the grapes. Cut the grapes at the stem. Cutting the vine itself or the metal wire that runs the length of the row is strictly forbidden. When your bucket is full, you yell 'SEAU!' and a porteur will come with a wheelbarrow and empty your bucket." He cut two bunches of grapes and sent us of into the rows to get to work. My "training" was complete in under two minutes.
A full bucket
I crouched down and cut my first bunch. Am I doing it right? Can it really be this simple?

Yes and yes.

The vines are spaced about six feet apart and are about stomach high. The leaves are big and tend to hide many bunches of grapes, so it is in fact necessary to follow the advice of the winemaker/boss and rip off a bunch of leaves so that you can see the grapes. When they are hanging cleanly, gravity does a lot of work for you: you just snip the stem and place the bunch in the bucket. A lot of the time, alack, it is not that easy. The grapes climb up in between the wires and the branches of the vine, making it very difficult to find where the grapes are attached to the plant. Snip, snip...the grapes are still there and you have a handful of leaves. Damn. But at least you didn't snip the wire...which is strictly forbidden.
The caisses, where the grapes go
My first bucket, I was conscious of the other workers around me, wondering, "Am I going fast enough?" Someone yelled "SEAU!" before my bucket was half full. Experienced harvester? Professional wine geek? Who are these people I am working with? Is it a competition? A race? Snip, snip. Should I be crouching? On my knees? Bent over from the waist? "SEAU!" Jesus! Let's go! Snip, snip...and then a porteur showed up and said, "What's your first name?" He was in his late 20s, early 30s, burly, bald. I told him, and he said, "Give me your bucket, Mark." He emptied it into a big plastic box on his wheelbarrow and returned the empty bucket to me.
Endless row
And that, in short, is the deal. Snip, snip, "SEAU!", give me your bucket, dump, wheelbarrow, big plastic box filled, snip, snip. On Sunday, the team filled 280 caisses and each cutter snipped 350kg of grapes, or almost 800 pounds each. One of my coworkers scoffed at this number, claiming he had a job with a different outfit where they did 500kg per person per day. That sounded pretty horrible.

Lots more to come on the details of the team, which position works best, what happens to your hands, and the camraderie or lack thereof in the vines. 

But for now, know that lunch was a green salad, beef bourguignon, cheese, and flan.

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