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Of Vendange and Vendangeurs

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Peter Martin is up to neck in grapes

The wine harvest, the vendange has begun, and everywhere, teams of vendangeurs are at work, mostly hidden from view from the road or railway by the height of the vines since the grapes are cut almost at ground level……..backbreaking work.

Traditionally, the workers came seasonally from Italy, then Portugal, and now many come from Eastern and Southern Europe, and even the Middle East. They usually come in locally recruited groups, stay about 3 weeks, and are accommodated in houses and barracks on the vineyards when the land needs more labour than a vigneron family can manage from its own resources.

They are usually fed communally and your correspondent has seen for himself the very high standards of food, drink, and service provided by a vigneron family employing a group of some 30 workers. 3 substantial meals a day and morning coffee and afternoon refreshment as the days are long and arduous.

First the cutting of the bunches of grapes with secateurs, about a kilo a stem. Then transport to the vineyard base, the separation of stalks from grapes and the mechanical sorting of good, perfect fruit from the odd overripe or damaged grapes.

Big investments have been made by many in modern, labour saving machinery which avoids or eliminates waste.

Then the pressing which is a chain of traditional occupations, each meticulously carried out and overseen with expertise and obvious pride and affection for the work and its ultimate product

There is great variety in reds and whites here. Lists are fun. Of the reds there is Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Servagnin, Syrah, Gamaret, Garanoir,Mondeuse, and Plant Robert. Of the whites there is Chardonnay, Chasselas, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Doral, and Pinot Blanc.

Some vineyards specialise in a single cépage product but many offer a mixture of wines of single grape varieties and some more offer assemblages of several varieties. Most of the commercial vineyards have sophisticated websites full of information and help to make a choice since most wine is sold here direct from the producer to the customer although much is also to be found in supermarkets.

Wine regulation is severe. There are production limits per hectare of vines planted, sugar contents are regulated,appellations are very much controlled and the right to describe a wine as Grand Cru or Premier Grand Cru is earned only if the wine is made as to 90% or 100% from grapes grown on the particular estate seeking the right to describe its products in this way.

To understand fully the whole system must be the study of a lifetime and the industry goes to great lengths in website terms to make itself understood and valued. The villages have wonderful names like Perroy, Bursinel, Tartegnin, Féchy, and Vinzel, each jealously guarding the right of local wine, mostly from small enterprises, to be labelled with that name.

The Vaud is blessed by its South facing vineyards, sheltered from the North and North East winds by the comforting shoulder of the Jura mountains and with Lake Geneva providing some kind of miraculous weather control by offering cooling breezes when it is too hot.

For reasons yet to be discovered by your correspondent, the Swiss drink their wines very young, reds within a couple of years of bottling and whites in the bottling year or just the next. Yet, to him, some of the red assemblages of Gamaret and Garanoir seem better at four years old - if they can be found.

You could spend a lifetime learning about Swiss wines and your correspondent will try to employ such time as he has left learning: he is resolved to drink only Swiss so long as he remains here. To drink other wines would seem like a sort of infidelity.

  • This Release From: The MSCTravelDesk