The Vendange

The vendange (grape picking) is maybe one of the most stereotypical French experiences imaginable. Camille's dad, Gille, has two rows of grape vines in his backyard, on his neatly mown lawn, next to his immaculately kept vegetable garden, which are almost a status symbol for the older generation. He also has five much longer rows on a small property, especially purchased for his grapes, about a five minute drive away.

The vendange is a yearly tradition and in this case, an excuse for Gille and around 10 of his friends to get together, drink way too much wine, talk and be catered for by Josette, Gille's wife and her friend.

Camille and I arrived at 8am, were handed pair of grape cutters (I have no clue as to the French or English name for these) and big buckets and were directed out to the vines on the lawn. It only took about half an hour to get through these, but before we could head out to the other vines, we had to crush the first harvest. And no, we didn't use our feet, I'm just as disappointed as you are... We used a moulin, which is turned by hand to crush the grapes, before they are tipped into a big press and squeezed to extract their juice, until there's nothing but a big, dry grapey biscuit left at the bottom.

We'd finished the crushing by around 9, when the first wine was consumed and a huge charcuterie board offered. The wine drinking then became a half hourly necessity for the rest of the day for most of the men.

We packed up two vans and headed down to the other vines, a combination of two varieties................ Luckily I'm not scared of bugs, since the number of spiders and earwigs hidden inside the bunches was crazy!

After about 2 hours and much wine drinking, we collected the full bins of grapes and drove back to house to crush what we'd picked. It's a real team effort, with everyone taking turns in turning the handle of the moulin, filling it up with the full buckets and washing out the empty ones. Eventually we got through it all and it was time for apperro #2. We all sat around in a big circle, drinking Gille's home made sangria and nibbling on nuts, pretzels and saucisson, until Josette announced it was time for lunch. We all got up and moved our chairs the 2 metres to the big, L shaped arrangement of tables for lunch, where we were offered more wine.

The traditional Ouvrart Vendange menu is as follows:

The first course in France is almost always a salad, in this case it's sliced tomato, boiled eggs and cod, topped with home made mayonnaise, lemons and parsley.

For the main we had a creamy veal stew, that tastes much better than it looks, with rice, salad and potatoes.

Then the cheese platter, followed by chocolate mousse for dessert.

Followed by an apple tart for, yes, second dessert.

Let me just say, French lunches are not for the faint hearted. It's taken me at least 7 lunches like this, to be able to literally not fall asleep at the table, or eat too much in the first course. I've still got much to learn to perfect this art! But, helping to clear the table and serve every course, as well as saying no to almost all offers of wine and seconds, definitely helped. My usual quick, light lunch routine that I have at home has been turned upside down in this country, a lunch like this takes HOURS! We left at 5 and weren't sure if we'd just eaten lunch or dinner. It's fair to say that we didn't eat again that night and we rolled ourselves and our plates full of leftovers back home.

It was a good day.

Samara Peace

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A recipe by Josette, the partner of Camille's dad, it's for Mojette from Vendee, the region we live in here. It's white beans a bit like canelini beans and it's surprisingly good. Traditionally served