How to say "skin" in French + visit to the dermatologist


wine grape harvest harvesters chateauneuf du pape
Our son, Max, harvesting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape some seven years ago. Yesterday, he and his 16-year-old buddies helped out with our rosé vendange. By the way...

The rosé harvest is finished! ... As we recover from the field and the four (behind which I've been roasting poivrons and sauteing courgettes....), let's take the time to enjoy another's story.  Read with me now the account of volunteer harvester, Thomas Mann, a friend and neighbor, who harvested at a nearby vineyard. But first, today's word:

la cueillette (kuh yet)

    1. picking, gathering
    2. crop, harvest

Also: cueillir (to pick, gather, pluck) 

Audio File: hear Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 or Wave file

la cueillette des raisins, des champignons, des pommes et des poires....
  the gathering of grapes, mushrooms, apples and pears... 

la cueillette de la lavande, des fleurs sauvages....
  the gathering of lavender, of wildflowers... 

la cueillette à la ferme, au verger...
  harvesting at the farm, at the orchard... 


V e n d a n g e

By Thomas O. Mann

“You want to do what?” was the typical reaction when I said I wanted to pick grapes in the vendange, the annual harvest in Cairanne, my part-time village in France’s southern Côtes du Rhône wine region.  I summered there for over a decade, but before retiring, I always missed the vendange because I had to go home to my job in Washington.  I wanted to experience the primeval magic of the harvest, the bacchanalian mystique of wine making, an important part of France’s rural patrimony, and a short-term stint of hard physical labor.

Cairanne is perched on the edge of a promontory dividing two rivers, the Aygues and the Ouvèze, in the Rhône Valley, between Orange and Vaison la Romaine, two larger towns that date to Roman times. Mont Ventoux, “the giant of Provence,” and the jagged rocks of the Dentelles de Montmiral rise on the eastern horizon. The mountains of the Ardèche lie to the west.  Vineyards dominate the local landscape, and the village is home to 40 wineries.

When September arrives, the grapes hang in ripe bunches, waiting for the right moment.  Their readiness is a function of the weather--they need warm sun and just the right amount of rain--and the critical sugar content, tested daily. Meanwhile, tension builds.  Clean wagons appear in the winemakers’ yards.  People keep a nervous eye on the sky. Too much rain at the wrong time could ruin the vintage by producing grapes that cannot make wine with the proper balance of fruitiness, tannin, acidity, and alcohol that vintners seek. Making wine sounds glamorous, but it depends on farming, always a risky business.

I get the call at night from the winemakers who agreed to let me work as a volunteer vendangeur for a day.  They issue me a pair razor-sharp pruning shears, and I report for duty early the next morning.  Riding in a rickety van, we follow the tractor into a vineyard where an empty wagon is waiting. Everyone gets a black plastic bucket, and we fan out across the rows.  It is hard work and the morning air is cold.  I feel the muscles stretching in my lower back as I bend to reach the grapes.  When the bucket is full, I carry it over to the wagon and dump in the grapes.  When the wagon is full, it is hauled off on a tractor and replaced with an empty one.  The sun gets hot by mid-morning, and we break for lunch at noon. My crew is a mixture of different ages, migrants from Spain, people without regular full-time jobs, and retirees.  Some are immigrants (or their descendants), from the Maghreb, France’s former North African colonies of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.  I try out my rusty 40-year old Peace Corps Arabic.  This gets some laughs, but my vocabulary is limited.

We begin the afternoon in another vineyard, whose old vines have few grapes. Then we finish the day on a steep hillside, picking from an organic vineyard with scratchy weeds growing between the plants, where you have to wrestle the grapes off their vines.  I am in mid-pick when the clock struck 6:00 p.m.  A senior crewmember points to the hour on my watch and tells me to stop working immediately.  I forgot for a moment that I was a laborer, in France, where workers’ rights are still taken seriously.  

The quality of the grapes harvested each season gives a preview of the vintage.  In a year with the right weather conditions, the grapes will look clean and healthy, and few will be sorted out. This year had a relatively wet winter and spring, and the grapes flowered later than they had in recent years. July and August were hot and dry, and the crop was smaller than usual, but the grapes are excellent. Back at the winery the grapes are fed into vats by a crushing machine, and the juices are left to ferment.  The type of wine being made, red, white, or rosé, determines when the skins are removed. We picked only Grenache grapes on the day that I worked, since Cairanne winemakers vinify each variety from each parcel separately before they are eventually blended together in the assemblage to make the finished product.  The vineyard’s mère de famille gives me a bottle of juice from the grapes we picked.  I plan to wash down an aspirin with a glass of the juice before passing out for the night. My back is a little sore, and I have a few nicks on my hand, but it feels good to have experienced the harvest at ground level.  By working as a vendangeur, I bridged the gap between being a “summer person” and a local, if only for a day.  

There is undeniable excitement in the flurry of activity during the vendange.  Crews of pickers are busy in the fields, tractors pulling wagons full of grapes slow traffic on the roads, and they queue up at the wineries to deposit their precious cargoes. Spots on the road become black and sticky with grape juice.  Tall mounds of raffle, the residue of the crushed grapes, pile up by the wineries, before it is carted off to an alcohol plant.

The romance I feel from being part of the vendange overlooks the economic realities.  The wine industry of today is partly an ancient craft, but also a modern business in a competitive global market. The traditional manual harvesting is mandatory for the vines that produce the best local wines in this region, and migrant workers still come here from Spain and Eastern Europe to work in the vendange. However, harvesting for the mid-grade wine in the Côtes du Rhône region is increasingly done by giant machines with menacing mechanical mandibles that devour whole rows of grapes at a time like giant insects.  In many wine-producing areas around the globe, all the grapes are harvested by machine, and I wonder if this will happen here as well.

In addition, the winemakers of Cairanne have applied for status as a grand cru of the Côtes du Rhône, which will recognize the excellence of their wines and could lead to higher prices in the future.  However, this also means that the French wine authority will delineate the areas within the Cairanne appellation that will be included in the cru, and those that will be left out.  The wine produced from excluded terrain will have to be sold at a lesser price as Côtes du Rhône or Vin de Pays rather than AOC Cairanne.  There will be winners and losers from the enhanced status.  This is further complicated by the fact that most wineries own many small parcels of land scattered throughout the Cairanne appellation, so the effects of the cru remain uncertain.  But the application is made and there is no turning back.

The countryside around Cairanne is perfumed with the intoxicating aroma of fermenting grape juice after the vendange, especially in the cool, foggy mornings of early autumn.  As I ride my bike across the countryside, I smell this tantalizing scent each time I pass a winery.  The leaves on the vines are beginning to turn red and gold, and soon I will go back to Washington until next spring.  I am glad to have felt the magic of the vendange.  Bacchus, the wine god of the ancient Greeks who brought the grape to Provence, would be content.   

Thomas O. Mann is a retired lawyer who divides his time between Washington, DC and Cairanne, France.  His stories about fly fishing have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, and various angling publications.  This is his first time writing about the wine industry.  


Le Coin Commentaires
I am so grateful to Thomas for allowing me to post his essay. I hope you have enjoyed it and learned from it as much as I have. A question for readers: is this how you pictured the wine harvest? What elements of the harvest would be most/least pleasing to you? Click here to leave a comment.

Related Story: La Page Blanche (The Blank Page): Read what it feels like, for a hostess, when the last harvester leaves... and see a favorite photo from Grignan!


Selected French Vocabulary

la vendange = the wine harvest

le vendangeur (la vendangeuse) = the grape picker

la mère de famille = mother

Exercises in French Phonics

Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.


Braise & Baby (c) Kristin Espinasse

"The Nudge" -- from The Smokey Files. This may be Smokey... then again it may be one of the Smokettes (that is, one of his 5 sisters... See more puppy photos, here.


                 Expression: avoir du chien = to have a certain kind of charm
Smokey received a note from his fan, Carol, in Belgium. It reads:
Voici un message pour Smokey pour illustrer sa superbe photo digne d'un portrait Harcourt:  "Beautiful Smokey Doodle Dandy". Avec ton Bandana, tu as vraiment du "chien". Here is a message for Smokey, to illustrate his superb photo worthy of a Harcourt portrait: "Beautiful Smokey Doodle Dandy". With your Bandana, you really have certain something (special charm).

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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


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Marika Ujvari

I can't believe how much your son looks like you! Handsome kid!!

Julie Mautner

Bravo to you Thomas for this wonderful story. It almost makes me want to get out there and pick grapes for a day myself!! And thanks to you, Kristin, for publishing it. Like you, I learned quite a few new things by reading it. The days surrounding the vendange are such an exciting time here in Provence--and this story conveyed it all beautifully. Merci!

Tim Averill

I loved the story and hope to do the same thing one day! I did imagine that it would be back-breaking work, and even volunteered to cook for the workers rather than try it, but the article convinced me that it would put me in touch with my inner grape. I just have to fully retire to be available to work!

Bill in St. Paul

Great story, Thomas, it brings back memories of my half day harvesting grapes, especially the part about the post-harvest aspirin! Some day, I, too, hope to work the vendange in Provence. Great photo of those noble Goldens, looking so regal. When they came up with the expression "avoir du chien", they must have been thinking of Goldens.

Pamela Samuels

In the autumn of 1974, we helped out at our neighbours' personal vendange on their farm about 10 km from Chinon. Even on that small scale, it was gruelling work! But all was accomplished in one day, and then the serious work of emptying bottles from previous years began along with a wonderful feast. It was an indelible experience.

Gail in NH

Your eloquent essay transported me for a few delicious minutes this morning -- and reaffirmed my determination to return to France within the year! Despite the grueling work, the magic of your wine harvest lingers,similar to when I branded calves once in Wyoming. Now I can better appreciate the effort that delivers both the filet mignon and the wine to the table. Thank you.

Sarijane Newell

As a Texas home winemaker, I have spent many days picking the local Mustang grapes to make our wine - these are wild grapes in Texas and we have to wait until September to pick them when they are almost raisins as they are terribly acidic until then. Had a small vineyard as well with local grapes, but of course nothing could compare to harvesting in France - I understand the desire to be a part of this world of winemaking. Great story from Thomas.

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

Thomas your story transported me back to Carianne where I spent time one morning drinking cafe au lait under the plane trees alternately watching a game of petanque and the orange wagons laden with grades on their way to the wineries to be crushed. Merci!

Pat Cargill

Many thanks, Thomas, for your essay which I thoroughly enjoyed which sets me again to thinking of being a part of the vendange at Domaine Rouge-Bleu however unikely that is. As always, Kristin, love the photos new or old of Braise and Smokey. The photo of Max, ah, where DO the years go?

Caroline, California

Mr. Mann's story was a flying carpet ride. Much more romantic than summers harvesting almonds in California's central valley...many thanks for the story.


Funny, last night I opened a special bottle with a dear friend that was made from la vendemmia/the harvest of 2009 I worked in Chianti Classico. One of these autumns I will be in France and thinking of Thomas's essay. There is nothing like putting your nose in the glass and being transported back the the terroir where you spent long days in the sun (or under the clouds, or knee deep in mud). But Kristen - this photo of Smokey & Braise is just adorable!

María E. Sastre Wirshing

I love your newsletter.

This summer my family and I went to the South of France. Would have love to visit you, but didn't know where you live. My granddaugher was an exchange student for the Summer at "Universidad de Barcelona"

I would like to buy some of your wine if it doesn't have sulfites. My daughter is allergic to them. Please let me know. I live in Puerto Rico.

We were in Montpelier and bought wine without sulfites.

Keep up your good work.I have learned a lot with your newsletter. Gracias...

María Eugenia Sastre Wirshing


I have a lot of appreciation for Thomas Mann's rendition of harvest. Many years ago my wife and I, along with another couple, decided to make wine. It was after years of visiting wineries and studying winemaking. We made an arrangement with a grower that had a whole assortment of test plots with numerous varietals, and so one fall morning at 4am we were off on the 2 hour drive. The sun was already up when we arrived, and the migrant workers were out in a different part of the field. I swear that several gave a chuckle as we passed by. We had done a little in the way of harvesting in the past, and so did not go into it blindly. After several hours the cool morning had turned into a very hot midday. Back at the car, our 2 year old daughter had shredded every piece of paper she could find. For some crazy reason we had decided to pick 4 different varietals that were ripe, rather than concentrating on a single one. In the late afternoon we headed back, once again making the 2 hour drive. At home around dinner time, we indeed determined that we were complete novices, as we had neglected to have all the equipment washed and ready. My wife went to make a quick dinner, while we did what most winemakers seem to spend the majority of their time doing, washing things. After a quick bite, and putting the kid to bed, we processed the various grapes, finally finishing up around 2am. The following year we decided to do things a little differently.


Another part of my living in France fantasy comes to life on your site. Thank you.


I loved hearing about your day picking grapes at the vineyard. Your voice is so clear and vivid.


This is my first time here, and I am quite intrigued by all that I’ve read. The description of the vendange is excellent, and very much as I would have imagined it having been in many wine regions at that time of the year. I don’t think my back would last more than about 15 minutes.

I love Châeauneuf-du-Pape and have enjoyed visiting the region many years ago with my husband. I still have a few 1995’s in my cellar that we bought from Ch de la Nerthe & Domaine du Pegau. One of our greatest pleasures was visiting vignerons from every part of France.
suejean Harrogate UK


Welcome, Sue Jean! You're going to like it here!

Merci, Kristin, for providing the opportunity for others to share their experiences in France. Merci, Thomas, for taking the time to write about your experience and share it with the rest of us.


Hi Sue Jean! Glad to see you here! Have you tasted the '95 Chateauneuf-du-Pape lately?


Hi JolleyG, Yes,I've been sharing those wines over the past few years, & they have been excellent, but we've all agreed they will last for a few more years - can't get better then that.

I agree, mhwebb, I'm liking it already, thanks for the welcome.

Marianne Rankin

Thomas, thanks for your description, which was pretty much the way I'd imagined the harvest would be like. I hope someday to help also with la vendange. Meanwhile, thanks to you and so many others who make wine possible - and I hope the machines will never do all the picking.

Sablet Home

Kristin, what a great story - I can totally identify with it. Hope the Vendange is going well at Domaine Rouge Bleu - we're with you in spirit, but wish we were there in person. Merci to both, yourself and Thomas.

Barbara Johnson

Thank you for your interesting essay. I am a city person, born and bred, and the countryside and country living has always seemed so romantic to me, consequently, all of the work involved sounds like something I would enjoy. Oh, I know my back would ache and my hands would be a wreck, but... it would be worth it. I was in Provence last fall and hope to return to see more of that lovely country.

Lisa A., CA

Thank you for this lovely story. I felt like I was there with you while reading the story.

I think if I was there working...I would have eaten too many of the grapes...hahaha I love grapes!


Ironically, I am in France with 4 other Canadians about to start working on a vendage in Burgundy. We are all wine people with a varied degree of knowledge but we are in for two whole weeks of picking that starts Monday morning. Thank you Thomas for painting a romantic spin on it all as I am sure we will all be hurting soon!

gail bingenheimer

une tenue estivale- summer attire
travailler dur, ferme - work hard
Il joue autant qu'il travaille.
He plays as much as he works.
Le chevalier aimait aussi discrètement que tendrement.
The knight loved as discreetly as he did tenderly.


I've been s busy here, I've missed reading FWAD regularly. Another harvest and every one seems to be growing. Thank you for continuing to share so much with us.

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