Who hasn’t dreamed of drifting to the idyllic countryside of France to work side by side with farmers and grape pickers from around the region and the world? September is traditionally the month for the vendanges, the harvest season in French wine and champagne vineyards. It’s a joyous time for both novice and experienced grape pickers to return to the land and fill their baskets with clusters of ripe grapes.
It’s backbreaking work, even for the fittest, and pays an average of 50 to 60 euros a day. Carriers earn more than pickers for lugging 50-kilo baskets on their backs, and once signed up you’re expected to work a full farmer’s harvest, which can last one to two weeks. But, it does have its rewards too!
Just back from the vineyards of Bourgogne, 18-year old French student Diane Robert recounts her first vendanges experience with INSPIRELLE:
This year, for the first time in my life, I decided to faire les vendanges, or participate in the grape harvest. My mother had always told me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that she had never regretted doing it. I also needed to earn some money, so I went for it.
I headed to the Burgundy wine region, in the Meursault area, for seven days at the end of August. We were 15 coupeurs (those who cut the grapes off the vines) – mainly girls, as they tend to drink less than boys after a hard day working in the vineyard!
We were logées-nourries-blanchies, an old French expression meaning we didn’t have to worry about where we were going to sleep, what we were going to eat or how to wash our clothes. Some money was deducted from our salary to pay for this service.
Our typical work day was about 10 hours long: wake up at 6 am, start work at 7:30 am, take a 15-minute snack break at 10 am, work again until lunchtime at noon, start again at 1:30 pm, take a 5-minute break at 3:00 pm, and finish around 4:30pm. I was paid 60€ per day.
The work is hard and exhausting. The second day was the hardest. That day, I wish I weren’t there! It had rained, and trying to move between the vines while wearing heavy boots covered with mud is very tiring. You have to decide whether to bend over, get on your knees, or sit in the mud to do your work. And you have to make a quick decision as the cutting goes fast, move quickly on to the next vine. Luckily, we had some sunshine too – it makes such a difference.
On the plus side, the countryside is lovely – vines surround you all day and it is magnificent. The food was also good. We always had a proper French meal – with a starter, main course, cheese and dessert – and we ate a lot!
The owner of the vineyard also took some time to explain the wine making process to us. Before that, I knew nothing about wine. I am very grateful to him for teaching me how to taste wine.
Despite some tough moments, I never regretted my decision to participate in the vendanges. I had heard a lot about the ambiance (atmosphere), and it is true – it is very unique and convivial. We were all together, working hard, laughing, swearing, meeting new people and learning from the more experienced pickers. At the same time, it is a physical challenge that one wants to win. You push yourself beyond your limits and tell yourself: “I can do it!”
When the harvest is finished, you are overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings: glad that it is over, proud to have made it, happy to have made money, and sad that it is over!
The last day is the best! All the drivers honk their horns. Everybody shouts. We were all just so happy to have achieved something so hard together! In the evening, the owners organize the Paulet, which is the last group dinner, and the atmosphere is terrific! I will always remember my first vendanges.
Want to join les vendanges next season? Here are some websites which you can check:
ANEFA (Association Nationale pour l’Emploi et la Formation en Agriculture) has information for seasonal jobs in French.
English-language resources include: