October, or at least some time in October, signals the end of grape harvest (Vendange) here in France. Depending on how early, or late, the harvest began will determine how early or late in autumn it comes to a conclusion. But ultimately, October signals it’s time for the Fete de Vendange.
No Time to Waste
As the grapes come in they begin their way into making wines. Literally there is no time to waste. Especially if it is hot. Grapes will start to ferment as soon as they are picked. Especially if it’s hot. So as we pick they are hauled directly to the winery.
There they are de-stemmed. Yes, there is actually a machine that does just that. The grapes are then juiced and the juice put into a tank to make wine. I won’t go into the intricacies of how wine is made here. (If you are keen – you can read about it in Our First Harvest.)
For the purposes of this post, it’s all about getting the wine on the go right away. To understand that the juice is in the tanks on the very day they grapes come into the winery. So come the end of the grape harvest, at most it is only one additional day before the juice is in tanks and fermenting into wine.
Time will Tell
The process of becoming wine will actually take months if not years. The wine maker takes over during all this and monitors flavour and alcohol levels. Stopping the fermentation process when he or she deems the wine ready. Some juice will be transferred to oak barrels to add that oaky flavour. Others will sit in tanks until ready for bottling.
But by mid to end October the wine is where it needs to be and it becomes a waiting process until it is ready to be drunk. (Except Beaujolais Nouveau, but that’s a different story all together.)
The Fete de Vendange
If you have followed along here through the year to see what goes into making wine you may realise that come the finish of the Vendange there is a collective sigh of relief that goes up. Time to down tools, at least for a couple weeks, and enjoy a Harvest Festival – a Fete de Vendange.
The Fete de Vendange is often a collective affair. A certain town may hold it for those vineyards dotted about it. Sometimes a whole region shares in the who hosts. I have been to both, and have enjoyed both immensely.
So what is it? Besides being an end of harvest party. A sort of collective Thanksgiving if you would. There is an atmosphere of a fair, a fete, with artisans selling their wares. There are events, parades, music and crafts. Filling food to be had. And of course wine to be drunk.
Enjoy a Glass
The wine will be from last year’s harvest. It may be only one choice of wine if the fete is being held by a village or town. It may be a selection of wines from different wine makers if being held for the region.
You typically purchase a glass at the edge of the town, and then you can drink or taste to your hearts delight. You wander the town, glass in hand, stopping to watch events or listen to the music. Queue to get something to eat (there is always a long queue). When you would like more wine, you go to the wine serving booth if it is a singular affair. Or you can visit different tents to try different wines.
As a general rule it’s not a drunken party. The French are very good at moderation and pacing themselves. (Not to mention the police are usually stationed on the roads out to randomly breathalyse those leaving.) Only once have I seen drunken rowdiness and this was 4 teenage boys. I have to say the looks of disgust on the locals was palpable.
Finding a Fete de Vendange is a matter of knowing which region you wish to be in first. Then simply look online (that’s the easiest). Or check in with the local Tourist Information to find the one nearest you and when. They can often take place over 2 days. You can enjoy the one day, or return with your glass the next day for a second helping.
And once the Fete passes by, we watch the autumn turn towards colder weather. Then it will be time to return to the vineyards and begin pruning. But in the meantime, I will enjoy my down time, sit down and raise a glass to this years wine.
More about seasonal work in the vineyard:
Grape Harvest in the Vineyard : The Vendange (September)
Vineyard Winter Work : Winter in the Vineyard (November – February)
Shop Wine Lover Gifts
As wine makers ourselves, we are always on the search for interesting and unique and particularly French wine items for our vintage and antiques shop. Here’s a taste from Our Shop of some of the things we have found:
(Simply click on an image to see more.)