On Thursday at midnight, Beaujolais Nouveau hits the market. This is a young wine produced from gamay grapes in the Burgundy region of France. The wine is, as it were, the "first-fruits" of the vendanges or grape harvest, a time of festivity and communal hard work at vineyards from September to October. The grapes are harvested by many hands and then pressed, after which the juice is fermented then given 6 to 8 weeks to mature. Upon reaching its (youthful) maturity, Beaujolais Nouveau is bottled and then released at midnight on the third Thursday in November.
Back in the 1980s, marketers turned the annual debut of Beaujolais nouveau into a big event especially in London and Paris, where wine connoisseurs and restaurateurs would line up with shopping carts before midnight and fight over the last remaining bottle. The hype may have worn off, but you might still enjoy celebrating the first fruits of fall with a bottle. If you're so inclined, you may want to look for one of the six wines recommended this year by Terry Kirby of The Independent: Wines of the Week-Six Bottles for Beaujolais Nouveau Day.
When we moved into our current home a few years ago, we were blessed to inherit mature grape vines, including some wine-grape varieties that the previous owner used to make his own award-winning wine. To date, we have not had enough grapes to attempt a batch of our own, but that is probably because we need to learn something about pruning vines to maximize fruit production--and because we need to stop our little people from foraging away the harvest!
Suzie's father recalls working as a farm hand during the vendanges at vineyards in Alsace. It was always a fun experience, even though it was hard work; the group of harvesters worked as a group, socializing and cutting skillfully and quickly, and the event culminated in a family dinner with everyone gathered around one large table.
In Duck Season, a book about his year living in Gascony, Chicago-based food critic David McAninch shares a humorous account of his experience helping harvest grapes for a local vigneron:
Picking grapes, though it has inspired much romantic imagery in movies and wine-marketing campaigns, is devilishly hard work. To reach the fruit, one has the choice of either squatting or bending over. For a while I squatted, but my knees did not take well to that at all. So I switched to bending, which, after a vine row's worth of toil, caused my lower back to twitch painfully. I observed the other pickers, most of whom, to my surprise, were a good deal older and, I dare say, less fit-looking than me. Some were squatting, others were bending. None of them looked remotely uncomfortable... On the contrary, they were quite spry. Every minute or so, one of them would shout seau!--which means "bucket"--and Eric [the vigneron] would jog over to replace the full receptacle with an empty one... Each of the other pickers was filling three or four buckets for every one of mine"
McAninch goes on to describe the feast that was served to the harvest hands at the midday family meal: a garbure, a piperade, salad, goose confit, rice pudding and cold Pacherenc. "I found myself...wanting very badly to go to sleep just as everyone else was preparing to get back to work."
This Friday, our family plans on enjoying the early first-fruits of someone else's labors with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau and some slow-cooked gascogne recipes out of Duck Season. I hope you're inspired to do the same!
Notes on the photos:
- top photo by unknown master (book scan) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- grapes photo by Maja Petric on Unsplash
- grape mask photo and vineyard photo by me taken in Alsatian villages