Vendange braise
Braise (Brez) at her first harvest.

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la pourriture
(poo ree tewr) noun, feminine
  1. rotting, rot, decay
  2. rottenness
  3. stinker, louse (person)

Ce que tu manges devient pourriture, ce que tu donnes devient une rose.
What you eat becomes rot, what you give becomes a rose.

A Day in a French Life...

Of fourteen autumns shared with Jean-Marc, I have missed only a few of his uncle's grape harvests. Pregnancy and childbirth were two sneaky ways to escape the backbreaking vendange. But by the fourth family harvest laboring over vines won out over the other kind of laboring. 

Harvesting grapes, like raising kids, gets easier from one year to the next. Perhaps it is due to age: old vines give less grapes; fewer grapes equal less work. As for kids: the older they get, the less lifting they require. On a purely physical level this all equates to less energy loss.

Harvesting might seem easier these days because of the language: with a growing French vocabulary I can now understand the vendangeurs, who are full of information--both serious and silly. All the trivia and teasing makes the time pass and before long the buckets are being stacked, the sécateurs stored away, and we're headed for Aunt Marie-Françoise's kitchen for a homemade harvest dinner. Time to celebrate! (Well, not quite yet. I'm not done telling you my story....)

Saturday afternoon I stood beneath a steel blue sky, my feet parked before yet another pied de vigne. Two rows over, my eleven-year-old was filling his bucket with clairette grapes while his nine-year-old sister collected the grenache further back. As for me, I held in my hand a bunch of rotten grapes.

"That's Noble rot!" another harvester, Eric, said, with a faux aristocratic accent.

I handed the bunch over to Uncle Jean-Claude who stuck his nose right into the rotten mass.... 

"C'est de la pourriture noble. We can use these grapes. But when the rotten grapes smell like vinegar, throw them out!"

I filed the information away before putting the nobly rotted grapes into my bucket and moving on to the next vine. When Eric's gray curls reappeared from the vines engulfing him, I noticed his grin was a little wider than before.

"Have you ever seen les Baux de Provence?" he inquired. I smiled, realizing I had indeed seen the charming southern town in question. But before I could answer Eric pointed to his innocent sidekick, Alain. "C'est nous deux!" It's us two! he giggled.

It took a minute before the play on words (baux/beaux) hit me and a new translation of Eric's sentence registered: "Have you ever seen the "good-looking ones" of Provence." Laughing at his joke, I forgot about my tired arms, which were bitten and scratched, and my reins which were aching. When next I looked over to see how the kids were getting along I found them studying the grapes, trying to decide which were pourri and which were not.

I marvel at the seriousness with with our kids undertake the task they've been assigned--and I feel a little guilty about my own sneaky behavior of yesteryear.... when I'd do anything to get out of harvesting. But I don't regret missing the 95' and 97'  harvests, which brought me two grubby-faced vintages--sweeter than all the grapes in Châteauneuf.

More stories from this French life in the book "Words in a French Life".

French Vocabulary

la vendange
grape harvest
vendangeur, vendangeuse
le sécateur
clippers, shears
le pied de vigne (m) = vine-plant
la pourriture noble
noble rot, botrytis
les reins (mpl) = back

French Pronunciation:
Listen to Jean-Marc's recite today's proverb:
Ce que tu manges devient pourriture, ce que tu donnes devient une rose.
What you eat becomes rot, what you give becomes a rose.

Download pourriture.wav

Related Terms & Expressions:
pourri(e) = rotten, bad; corrupt
pourrir = to go rotten or bad, to spoil
le pourrissement = deterioration
l'odeur de pourriture = putrid smell
la pourriture sèche = dry rot

In books:

Noble_rot Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution.
"A truly fascinating book." --Peter Mayle

Gites_de_france Gîtes de France:
AA Bed and Breakfast in France 2006 . Check it out here:

In Francophile gifts
: Limoges boxes

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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