My better French half, "Chief Grape": king of the vines in his grenache-tinted "robe" (photo taken 3 years ago). Today we begin our 4th harvest for the red wine! 

la vendange (von-donzh) noun, feminine

    1. grape/wine harvest or vintage
    2. grapes (harvested); grape crop

vendanger (von-don-zhay) verb
    1. to pick or to harvest grapes

synonyms: la récolte (harvesting, crop), le ramassage (collection), la cueillette (picking)


A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Welcome to Grape Camp!

Grab a bucket and follow me out to the vines today. Got a windbreaker? Casquette? Sunglasses? Courage? Good, you'll need them!

Now reach into our flat-bed camion and get yourself a pair of sécateurs and some gants. Pull them on. Voilà!

Go ahead. Choose a vine row. There are many! Trip over a giant galet or two as you make your way over to the grapes. Set down your bucket next to a gorgeous pied de vigne—its leaves already burnt orange and crumbling from the ten day old Mistral. Feel the wind whip your hat off and gasp, mournfully, as you watch your sun shield billow over a field of vines. One less comfort... Get used to it!

Reach down, down, down, and gather a bunch of grapes. Take precautions (distinguish your fleshy fingers from the blue fruit). Now position your shears.... Clip! Relieve the branch of its heavy fruit. Aahhhh.... Watch the vine spring back, feeling lighter on its feet. As for you, you'll carry that weight, bucket by bucket till the sun goes down. Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four....

By the eighth or ninth vine put your hand on the small of your back, feel the pain in your reins, and let out a nervous chuckle—mumbling something about how you ought to take up yoga! Now look up, amazed, at the reality before you: an interminable field of vines! Listen as your chuckles turn to chokes, sobbing chokesMon Dieu, whatever gave you the idea that harvesting French grapes was something like romantic?

Continue to bend, stoop, and sometimes sit.... the 40-year-old vines "en goblet" are back-breakingly low to the ground. They hide their grapes well under a parasol of leaves (you'll need to crawl under the slumping vine in order to reach the grapes). The wind, now in full force, gives you a little kick and, fast as that, you're kissing the trunk where all the little balls of fruit are clustered. Chuck those grapes in the bucket, push yourself back up off the ground, and get a move on! This isn't a vacation, c'est la vendange!

Crash! You've stumbled again. Time to take your pick of juicy French expletives (you've learned plenty from the pickers) and curse those *@#!! WEEDS that have just tripped you up again, leaving scratches and, soon, swelling. Curse organic farmers and their fields of mauvaises herbes! On second thought, hats off to organic farmers and their fields of meter tall weeds (while they may be a harvester's hell on earth, weeds are a sign that the grapevines have been spared of herbicides).

What's that? You say you need to use the powder room? Well, Laaah DEEE daaaah! The "powder room" is right here! Ne soyez pas si prude! Just drop your drawers! 

Huh? Worried someone might see you? Well, then, there's a cypress tree at the end of this field. But hurry up, we need you back here illico presto!

Off you trot while your fellow harvesters giggle and snort. Oh, go on, no one's watching!

Back to work now and shhh! Don't talk so much. See that big guy over there with the queue de cheval? That's my brother-in-law (the self-elected supervisor). He checks buckets by the minute. Make sure yours is full and don't blame it on the dull shears (as I did, last time he checked) or he'll teach you an old French farming dicton:

"Il n'y a pas de mauvais outils, il n'y a que de mauvais ouvriers!"
(There are no bad tools, only bad toilers!)

What's that? You say you're thirsty? Didn't you bring a water bottle? Never mind. Have a slug of this. No, it isn't milk. There's water (albeit murky) inside.... It was the only container Chief Grape could find. Lord knows he isn't finicky about gourdes, only grapes. Grapes! Grapes! Bring in the grapes!

"Ten more buckets and you can stop!" Chief Grape shouts. No, he's not talking to you, Grapehead! (Nor, to me!) He's talking to our twelve-year-old son, telling him that the boy's shift is almost over.

Mwahahaha! As for you—we have YOU for the day. Now get on with it! No talking! ALLEZ! Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two three four.... Welcome to grape camp!

Le Coin Commentaires
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French Vocabulary

la casquette = cap
le camion = truck
le sécateur = pruning shears 
le gant = glove
voilà! = there you go!
le galet = stone 
le pied de vigne = vine stock
le mistral = a powerful, cold, northern wind
le reins = lower part of back (avoir mal aux reins = to have pain in the lower back)
mon Dieu = my God
en gobelet = vines that are low to the ground, untrained, shaped like a gobelet
c'est la vendange = it's harvest time
les mauvaises herbes = weeds
ne soyez pas si prude = don't be such a prude
illico presto! = right away!
queue de cheval = ponytail
la gourde = water bottle


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:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter (9-years-old at the time of this recording...) pronounce today's word & quote:
Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives* sont les plus délicieuses.
Download vendange.mp3
Download vendange.wav

Terms & Expressions:
  une vendangeuse, un vendangeur = a grape picker
  une bonne vendange = a good vintage
  les vendanges = grape harvesting time
  un vendangeoir = a grape-picker's basket
  la vendange en vert = a green harvest (crop/cluster thinning)
  vendanger une vigne = to harvest a vine
  pendant les vendanges = during the grape harvest
  faire les vendanges = to harvest or pick the grapes
  vendanger de bonne heure = to get an early start on the harvesting


Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives sont les plus délicieuses. / Like the grape harvest, love gathered late is the most delicious. --Jean Amadou

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