Sunday, 5 October 2014

Will drinking wine improve our French ?

Hand picking still takes place
Last year I became fascinated in la vendange in Caunes and the surrounding area. I experienced sticky alcoholic smelling tyres , and sticky alcoholic smelling shoes as I drove and walked around the roads of the Minervois. This year, I was ready for it, and savoured the delicious smell as I walked through the streets of Caunes.

Grapes and lots of juice, dropped on the roads between the vineyards and the co-op.

This year I have also made it my business to check out the huge vendange machines, watch les bennes delivering their precious cargo to the local co-op, see where hand picking is still taking place, and try to understand some of the processes involved in getting les raisins from the vines into the bottles that we all seem to enjoy drinking so much.

Une vendangeuse automatique......a ladder is needed to get into the cab.
It was a brilliant opportunity to learn about the vendange from our new French friends who have started to join us at our café des langues, which meets every Thursday in our local café/bar.  So, Jean Claude et Henri were bombarded with all sorts of questions about the grape harvest which was dominating our area.



My breakfast on the terrace was disturbed one morning, by the harvesting of grapes taking place at our nearest vineyard....on the other side of the little valley opposite our house.

We learned some new words…. The verb enjamber is sort of self- explanatory….the vendange machine ( La vendangeuse automatique) works astride the vines…..enjamber is to stride over…..not to be confused with getting ones leg over…..which might seem a more literal translation.



I was pleased that one cuts the grapes…couper rather than picking them….cueillir…..couper is so much easier for us Brits to say than cueillir with all those vowels and a sneaky double L. 

The vendange machines actually shake and suck the grapes from the vines, and wandering around following the process, you can see that grapes on the lowest part of the vines are actually often missed by the machines.



La benne is the dumper truck that takes the grapes to the co-op. Some are really modern, but some look as if they’ve been doing the same job for decades. Traffic jams ( les bouchons...also, conveniently the word for corks) are frequent as tractors and les bennes take to the roads.

following deux bennes

This man and I exchanged waves and smiles as he unloaded his grapes to be weighed
Le fouloir is the wine press, le rendement is the yield, le pessage is the all important weighing of the grapes…..so the payment can be assessed.

the stalks, piled high, all around the co-op

I suppose we already knew that some grape producers are just that….they grow grapes and then sell them on….they are not the wine growers, who grow the grapes on their domaines and then continue the process by producing the wines themselves.

A session of our cafe des langues

What was most interesting was that, after an excellent café des langues session, Jean Claude and Henri  confessed that they were not experts on la vendange at all…. but very expert in consuming the final product.

Jean Claude in the foreground, helping us improve our French

Henri and Mark exchanging thoughts and new vocabulary...in French and in English

It has been suggested that our ability to converse in French would be improved if we drank wine instead of coffee...... perhaps we should give it a go.

16 comments:

  1. Great informative post, Janice. I absolutely agree that the local brew could definitely help break down any language barriers! Here, the tongue loosener is 'una cerveza'...or maybe two...Axxx

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    1. Just had fun with Catalan and Castillian spanish while we were in Girona.....I needed you there Annie !
      I have enjoyed watching the vendange this year, and its been great to use it as an opportunity to have proper conversations about it...not just about the weather and buying loaves of bread. Jxxx

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  2. Perhaps you should join in with the picking next year, and share a hearty lunch with them all, and I am sure that your vocabulary would expand even further.

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  3. Thank you for an interesting inside look at the grape harvest, Janice. I'll have to get that image of people dancing on grapes out of my head, and get with the times. Good luck with the French vocab!

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    1. Mmmmm.not sure how much treading the grapes takes place !

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  4. Great post, we have similar traffic jams at the moment as they take the harvest to Jalon co-op, I agree about the smell, very heady. xcx

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    1. Sometimes the smell is really strong...and sometimes, just delicate and delightful !

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  5. Exciting, Janice, and I commend your efforts at "joining in". :)

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    1. We only have one more cafe des langues session before heading back to England....but we are promising to keep in touch with our new friends..ready for more cafe conversations next spring.

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  6. Looks like you and Mark are fully embracing French life and culture. Thanks for letting us in on some of the secrets xx

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    1. We have had some real laughs, when looking for equivalent phrases in French and English...teaching ones grandmother to suck eggs, and teaching a monkey to grimace seem to be interchangeable as far as we can make out !

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  7. Wonderful photos Janice to tell the story.I love the colour of all the different machinery

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    1. The colours of the vines as they change colour once the grapes have been picked are lovely too.

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  8. Enjamber - I'll remember that! What a beautifully descriptive verb.

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