Week 34 (21–27 August 2023)

In the first half of this week it was more than 40°C outside (according to my weather app the perceived temperature went up to 45°C). Then yesterday it rained for the first time in weeks and temperature dropped to 26°C, it felt chilly and I had to wear a sweatshirt. Today we were at max 22°C, 20 degrees under the temperature two days ago. I'm looking forward for a fresher and more stable weather in the next couple of weeks!

First vendanges

Wine is sunlight, held together by water. — Galileo Galilei

Tuesday evening, 7pm, 38°C, we met S who was selling bread at the Chazeaux night market. He said he'd been up since 6am because he went harvesting grapes with some winemaking friends that morning, but they had to stop at noon because of the heat. They'd go back the next day to finish the harvest. We said we'd be happy to help.

Wednesday morning, 6am, 28°C, we left the house in the dark for a 10-minute car ride to the field we'd help harvest. It's a plot of Gamay vines1, over 30 years old, that F and D (Le Vin des Pauzes) have been taking care of since last year. They moved to the region a few years ago to make wine. They put together a chai and started by buying grapes from local growers2 and planting new vines at their house. The Gamay plot is the only one that they currently cultivate.

Ancient roman sarcophagus, with bas-relief sculptures of angels harvesting grapes. From the Getty Villa collection in Los Angeles.

Introductions, coffee, breakfast, and at 7am we were harvesting. Our very first vendanges!3 We learned which grapes to pick and not to pick (unripe grapes, but also those damaged by powdery mildew and other diseases, F and D make nature wine so there's little treatment), and generally how vendanges work. It's a long tradition with its own rituals, almost a choreography. This is how we did it: there's one person on each side of a row of vines with a bucket and shears, they start at the back of the row and work through the vines all the way to the front, emptying the buckets in special plastic boxes when full. If there's more than one person on one side of a row, the second person would start not at the back but at the next wooden post, and then the first would continue at the next post, and so on until the end of the row.4 To bring the plastic boxes back to the truck there's the "little train" technique: people make a chain by holding one end of a box in each hand and walking in a line. What I apparently did not learn was how to use shears properly, and I ended up with a nasty cut on the inside of my hand, blood everywhere on my forearm, slightly dizzy, but with water on my face and a slice of bread with honey everything was fine.

By 9.30am we were done—most of the grapes had been harvested the day before. So we swapped coffee for a glass of wine or two and savory snacks, bread cheese spreads. We'd had coffee in plastic cups but not wine, we're not savages: F and D had brought a set of proper wine glasses.

After that we all drove to the chai in Les Pauzes, a hamlet in the Drobie valley. We put the grapes (without destemming) in stainless steel tanks that were filled with CO2 for carbonic maceration. Then more wine in the house, more wine on the couradou with neighbors that dropped by. More wine in the old magnanery downstairs, where A told us about his childhood memories of silk farming in the village. Soon-to-be-wine in the chai, straight out of the tanks, a ~3° grape juice in different stages of maturity. More wine over lunch around the heavy wooden table. By that time I was pretty tipsy and not bothered by the 40°C ambient temperature. In the late afternoon we walked down a slippery footpath to the river and I managed to fall and scrape my left arm while trying to pick blackberries in an awkward spot. The cool waters of the Drobie freshened me up. A jump from a rock, silence underwater, except for small stones clinking together. Then emerged.




  1. the end of August is pretty early for harvesting grape, but the Gamay harvest starts only a week after Chasselas (one of the first varietals to mature and the reference for varietal maturity in France) and before many white grape varietals such as Sauvignon or Viognier. Still, there's a trend of grape harvesting dates becoming earlier

  2. common way to start out in winemaking if there's no vineyard in the family. An alternative (and what C at Les 2 Fauves did) is to buy a vineyard and start by selling some grapes/renting a chai.

  3. actually I helped harvest grape as a child. My memories are vague but F remembers: instead of vendanges I was saying that we were doing the vengeance.

  4. I'm pretty sure this made no sense sorry