Beaune - Les Joyeux Temps de La Vendange Part Deux

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September 1st 2011
Published: September 5th 2011
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Back To Beaune

I'm returning to Beaune after a couple of years. My friends Nick and Anne have been living here for the last three years. Sadly they are having to return to the UK soon so this is one last visit before they leave.

I am again visiting at the time of the Vendange, the annual wine harvest. The grapes in the area around Beaune are all picked by hand so at this time of year there is a lot of casual work available and a lot of people come into the area looking for work. This year we are fairly optimistic that one of Nick and Anne's friends has been able to arrange some work for the three of us.

Le Shuttle

Because I'm likely to be earning some money when I get to Beaune I treat myself to the luxury of travelling to France through the Channel Tunnel instead of using the ferry. Iím sure that when the tunnel was being built I had wanted to travel on one of the first trains through. Iím nearly 20 years too late and itís a bit of an anticlimax to drive my car onto a train, feel the train shake about for about half an hour and then drive off the train again.

The speed of the journey does allow me make some progress through France. I'm on my way to Strasbourg for a couple of days before carrying on to Beaune. I decide to stop off at Saint Quentin for no other reason than that it reminds me of the Jonny Cash song.

When I arrive in Beaune the Vendange still hasn't started and we spend a few days sitting around waiting for the weather to change. Anne and Nick have been living in Beaune for three years now and have made quite a lot of friends here. There is usually someone visiting the house. I'm quite impressed with myself because I seem to understand more of the language than I did 2 years ago. Maybe the little bit of Spanish I've learned has in some way helped. I hope I don't get the two languages completely mixed up!

All the people who visit Anne and Nick's house are completely bonkers! Bonkers in a heart-of-gold kind of way,{these are the people who've managed to arrange work for us} but still completely bonkers. I canít decide if this is because most of the people they know are people they have met while propping up the bar in Ali's Bar or if all French people are bonkers.

Whenever we meet someone in town I am introduced as someone who has come to work on the Vendange. Most people react by falling about laughing and acting out back pain. I wonder what I've let myself in for??

White Vin Man

The day of the Vendange finally arrives. I crawl out of bed at 6:45 and within an hour Iíve been let loose in a vineyard with a pair of secateurs. Breakfast, journey to the cuverie, signing up, training, health and safety and a trip out to the vineyard in the back of a van with a load of bonkers French people all done and I'm snipping away at the grapes. Within another 30 minutes the back pain has kicked in and I want to give up and go home.

We get a break for "elevenses" at about nine oíclock. Bread, cooked meats, cheeses and bottles of wine are brought to the fields. The seasoned grape-pickers are quite happy to knock back a few glasses of wine for breakfast but I decide to be sensible and stick with water {Maybe I should have gone for the wine - it might have numbed the pain!}. But at least Iím in better spirits after the break and manage to get through to lunchtime without falling too far behind the rest of the pickers.

Lunchtime turns out to be something special. We are taken back to the cuverie for a 90 minute lunch break where we are given an excellent four course meal with wine. The people we've met have told us that this is one of the best domaines to work for in terms of the free lunch we've been given and I can believe them!

We are working for Domaine Simon Bize et Fils in Savigny which is just a few kilometres from Beaune. I don't think you'll find any of their wines in Tesco. You could pay almost £1000 for a case of six magnum bottles of their Chardonnay! There are 38 of us in our 'gang', nearly all French. But there also a number of Japanese (and their cameras) who are family of the owner and I spot another couple of Brits working. The French maybe completely bonkers but the British seem to have cornered the market in wearing silly hats. Ed and Mike turn out to be professional poker players who enjoy their wines and have come here to experience the process first-hand.

Anne and I are working in the vineyards but Nick has brought a note from his Mum and is working on the Triage - which is basically quality control of the grapes - back in the cuverie. We are all working for the minimum wage. In France this is €9 per hour. This makes me feel a bit guilty because we are all being paid the same rate but I'm a lot slower than the more experienced and the younger pickers.

It's back into the fields for another 4-hour shift in the afternoon. I try to keep up with the rest but I don't think I did very much in the last hour when the heat and the back pain really started to get to me.


The following morning I struggle out of bed despite the back pain determined
Feeding The WorkersFeeding The WorkersFeeding The Workers

With wine provided too
to see it through until the end of the harvest. Everyone has assured me that the back pain is normal, even for the younger workers, that after Day Two the pain in my thighs will be worse than the pain in my back, and that after Day Three I will have no feeling in my back at all! {The good news is that my dodgy feet are the only parts of me that aren't in pain and are fine!}.

I get to the cuverie to find out that I'm not the only one to notice how slowly I was working the previous day and theyíve sacked me! My back immediately starts to feel better. I only wish they'd told me the previous day so that I wouldn't have had to drag myself out of bed this morning.

My wine picking career has lasted just one day! Oh well, one door closes and another door opens 😊 . Next stop, Barcelona.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Inside The CuverieInside The Cuverie
Inside The Cuverie

Waiting to start quality control
My RewardsMy Rewards
My Rewards

For my career as a grape picker
Anne Keeps Going To The EndAnne Keeps Going To The End
Anne Keeps Going To The End

She didn't get sacked!

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