The harvest is finally here! After tasting and analysing the grapes from various parcels for a few weeks, the domaine has decided that our grapes are ready to be harvested. Some of them, anyway. With so many different grape varieties and types of terroir, let alone parcels with different elevation and sun exposure, we will have roughly 20 days of harvesting ahead of us, which could be consecutive, or spread out over six weeks. The appellation needs to declare the official start to the harvest, based on input from various analyses throughout the region, but domaines can apply for an earlier date if their parcels indicate a higher level of maturity. This year the Crémant harvest is declared on September 12, and the still wine harvest, a week later on September 19. Sparkling wines are typically harvested earlier because the balance needed for the final wine is slightly higher acidity and lower sugar levels than for still, dry wines.

Other wineries start harvesting the crémant while we are still gathering our prélèvements, or samples for analysis.

Other wineries start harvesting the crémant while we are still touring the vineyards, gathering our prélèvements, or samples for analysis.

We don’t make any sparkling wine, but according to our analysis we’re ready to begin on September 14, 5 days earlier than the offical start date for still wine. This may be an effect of the biodynamic work in our vineyard, as it seems this is common to many domaines with the same viticultural practices.

Call time is 7:30 but it’s hard not to show up a few minutes in advance, since this is the day we’ve been building up to for the last few weeks. (Like Christmas! But with fewer gifts, and more heavy lifting… hmmm maybe I’m thinking of Labour Day?)

7:45 am: the coffee is made. The smell of black coffee and schnapps is almost enough to wake us up, but better have a sip or two, just in case!

Bright and early on the first day of the harvest. Coffee is prepped - red means with schnapps, blue means without. Trucks are lined up near harvest registration.

Bright and early on the first day of the harvest. Coffee is prepped – red means with schnapps, blue means without. Trucks for grape collection and vans for workers are lined up neatly, waiting for the festivities to commence.

8:00 am: 52 additional vendengeurs, or harvest workers, have shown up to help us pick. Most people live in the area, which is particularly useful as with the weather and the variable maturity evolution of the grapes, we often don’t know the schedule until a day or two in advance. There are some house rules to go over before we get started. Everyone is issued a pair of pruning shears, and we are briefed on quality and safety expectations for the day.

8:30 am: And they’re off! We starting with the Pinot Gris parcels located right next to the winery. This means that the grapes will be coming in quickly, so we need to head to our posts in the reception area.

Crash course on how to pick grapes with our enlarged team, then the vendangeurs get to work, followed by the porters, who will help collect the berries.

Crash course on how to pick grapes with our enlarged team, then the vendangeurs get to work, followed by the porters carrying their yellow hottes or baskets, who will help collect the berries.

9:20 am: The first truck returns to the domaine, full of grapes. It is our job to unload the truck, move the grapes into the pressoir, or press, and send the truck back out with empty botiches, the big yellow bins.

10:00 am: The second truck arrives, and we keep a steady flow of grapes going into the pressoirs. In French, it’s called le chargement du pressoir, or loading the press, but it really feels like we’re charging as it calls for a bit of a running start to push each 200+ lb botiche full of grapes into the loading area. (The schnapps helps.)

The first truck pulls up, and we unload the grapes with maybe a little taste testing, just in case. uhhh guys - weren't we picking white grapes today? Yup - Pinot Gris has a grayish-blue skin (hence the name Gris, its Italian counterpart is called Pinot Grigio.) A little elbow grease, and all these botiches, or bins, are loaded into the pressoir.

The first truck pulls up, and we unload the grapes with maybe a little taste testing, just in case. Uhhh guys – weren’t we picking white grapes today? Yup – Pinot Gris has a grayish-blue skin (hence the name Gris, its Italian counterpart is called Pinot Grigio.)

The pressoir squeezes the grapes very very gently so as to extract as much juice as possible from the pulp of the berries, without taking the bitter taste of the stems and seeds. The juice, also known as grape must, flows down into tanks we’ve set up in the room below. After pressing is over, several hours later, only the skin, stems and seeds remain, it is our task to clean up the pressoirs first thing the following morning to be ready for the next round. Fortunately there is life after press for the grape-ful dead; the leftovers can be composted or distilled into eau de vie, but this will be composted for later use on the domaine.

A little elbow grease and the help of this contraption ensure that the grapes make it into the pressoir without too much delay. The juice, also known as must, drops down into these tanks set up in the room below.

A little elbow grease and the help of this contraption ensure that the grapes make it into the pressoir without too much delay, or heavy lifting. The must, drops down into these tanks set up in the room below, where it settles.

We successfully load up the morning’s harvest into the presses by around 12:30pm or 1, and we break for lunch. Once we hit the afternoon, we’re starting to get comfortable with the rhythm of unloading the grapes so of course it’s time to change the activities. I have the dubious honour of being in charge of preparing all the futs before the grape must can enter. This means I’m starting to get to know each barrel, inside and out (hah!) pretty well. When last we left them, the barrels had been sulfured, so they’re full of SO2/sulfur dioxide… mmmm…my task is to rinse them out with water, and then with a tartaric acid solution. Remember all the time we spent scraping tartar off the inside of the barrels? Well, this is different; those were hard, uneven deposits caked onto the sides, left by the wine. What I’m doing now is leaving a fine coating to protect the barrel from contamination during the 1-3 days before it will be filled with grape must.

Playing snakes and ladders while we rinse the barrels. This stuff won't come out in the wash! The layer of tartaric acid is quite thick in some barrels. Gotta get'em all.... making sure we haven't missed any barrels from a higher vantage point.

Playing snakes and ladders while we rinse the barrels. This stuff won’t come out in the wash! The layer of tartartic acid is quite thick in some barrels. Gotta get’em all…. double checking from a higher vantage point that we haven’t missed any barrels.

And by 6 pm, our first day of harvest is over, so we head home to grab a bite and some rest before heading back and doing it all over again the next day. The main difference with the second day of harvest is that the pressoirs need to be cleaned. Each of the interns has been assigned a press, and mine is the biggest one, clocking in at 60 hectolitres, (6000 litres, or nearly 1600 gallons) but the other two are not far behind, at 50 hectolitres. Cleaning the presses will be our morning activity every day following a harvest day. (No photos of this just yet… I’m still getting the hang of it and I end up drenched each time, so maybe not the best place for a camera!)

Surprisingly, the first week is fairly light – there are only the two days of harvesting, as the rest of the parcels need a little more time to ripen. It’s just a little taste of the work for now, but we’re expecting next week to be quite a bit busier, so we’re using the weekend to rest, stock up on food and generally appreciate the calm before the storm!

A breath of fresh air - we venture into the vineyard to check when the remaining berries will be ready.

A breath of fresh air – we venture back out into the vineyard to check when the remaining berries will be ready. (Soon! says this Pinot Gris…)

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