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Published: October 25th 2009
A little background for how I ended up in Switzerland picking grapes:
One sunny afternoon at CanDo4Kids back in Adelaide my CEO, Paul, asked me where I’d be at the end of September. To my reply of “floating around somewhere in Europe” he said “How would you like to do some paid work in one of the most beautiful places in the world?” As it turns out Paul’s partner’s sister and her Swiss husband manage a winery out of St Saphorin (not far from Vevey) on Lake Geneva. A couple of emails later it was all teed up for the last weekend of September/start of October.
I actually arrived a day earlier than most of the pickers and spent the afternoon exploring Vevey. The accommodation provided was a simple dorm bed on the third floor of the Chateau. I shared a room with Elly, who is actually the daughter of Paul, my CEO’s, ex-wife and also from Adelaide. The first night I was quickly educated on the amount of wine that accompanies every meal having my shot glass topped up after almost every sip.
Vanessa and Marc Henri ran the show with their almost 3 year old son
Matis, but the Chateau was packed with Vanessa’s parents, her brother, their Au Pair (a girl from Murray Bridge), 2 French girls, 5 French guys, 3 Portugese, a Czec couple, 3 older French people, a Swiss family friend from up in the mountains, Elly and myself. It’s the French speaking region of Switzerland but luckily most people also spoke at least some English.
Each morning we’d roll down the stairs for a briefing at 7am. Then we’d hit the vines armed with our trusty secateurs. We were predominantly picking Chasselas white grapes which taste so good they are often grown as table grapes. We’d pick til 9am when morning tea would arrive - Swiss chocolate and cheese with bread, tea, Coke and of course wine. Its customary to drink from a communal shot glass that gets passed around which makes it really hard to keep track of how many you’ve had! We picked again until midday when we’d head back to the Chateau dining room for the main meal of the day. Of course there is more wine but at the dining table you get a glass to drink from. At 1pm we’d head back out to the vines
and pick until 4pm when we’d get afternoon tea - more cheese and bread, cake and...yep...wine! In case you hadn’t already had enough to make you tipsy, typically someone would wander around the vines between afternoon tea and knock off time (6pm) with a bottle and a shot glass just to keep you going. Then we’d have knock offs or “apero” before dinner (with yet more wine) at 7pm. After dinner if you weren’t already falling off your chair or crawling up the stairs from exhaustion, you’d be encouraged out to the refectory for shottie after shottie after shottie after shottie... They are shot glasses but there is a fine line between drinking it too fast (all in one gulp implying you are not appreciating the wine) and drinking it too slowly (commonly known as “renting the glass.”)
According to the speeches on the last night (so even before most of the evening’s festivities) we were told we’d consumed 500 bottles of wine between 25 of us over the 8 days - that’s an average of 20 bottles each! I believe it too. Did I mention it was all free??
Outside the vineyards the highlights included an night
Elly & my dorm room
3rd floor of the Chateau overlooking Lake Geneve. The windowsill was the only place I could get internet access
of old fashioned group dancing to one of the French women playing her accordion, an evening in St Saphorin drinking town wine and watching the old-school press at work, and the Vandage Ball in Rabiz, the next town over. We also had a day off where Elly and I caught the train to Lausanne, the next biggest town, to see the sights.
Even though it was really hard work physically, I’d do it again in a second! It was such a blast and at the end I got paid in Swiss Francs!
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