Around France

It’s Time to Make the Wine

Vendange at Castillon-duGard

It was almost the last harvest of grapes for the season before I had a chance to get to a vendange at Castillon-du-Gard. As you may recall, the day I was to head up north, the battery in my car gave out.

Vendange in Castillion-du-Gard

During the grape harvest season in France, it is a special treat to be invited to a vendange— a grape harvest. My friend from the States was here, so it was a chance to do something fun and totally unexpected during her visit. The vineyard was near Uzès.

What to wear?

After being invited to spend the day in a vineyard., “what do you wear to a vendange” was my first thought. The concern was shared by my friend Pat.

Definitely wear a hat,” we decided. Then put on something that “looks cute, of course,” said Pat.

For me, I had a closet full of shirts that would do; but for Pat, she had only brought only “precious” outfits that grape stains and mud would ruin.

With less than 24 hours to shop, we ran to Monoprix, an “H&M-type” store in Uzes and started our search. “Maybe something blue,” said Pat, “so it won’t show grape stains.” A blue denim shirt was there, waiting for her on the rack. “If it gets stained, “she rationalized, “I’ll just say ‘oh, that? it’s from picking grapes in France.'”  

 Vendange in Castillon-du-Gard Pat dressed in her “grape-picking in France” outfit.


The vineyard

La Gramière is a winery owned by a young American couple who started the business in 2005. They produce Grenache-based wines made from organically grown, hand-picked grapes.The vineyard is just outside Castillon-du-Gard, a tiny village near Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct.

For directionally challenged Pat and me, the vineyard for “La Gramière” winery would have been impossible to find. Thankfully a friend offered to meet us at the village square in Castillon-du-Gard . The unpaved, “backwoods” route proved it was a good thing we didn’t have to find our own way.

Arriving at the spot where we met Amy and Matt and the rest of the “pickers.” we discovered the vineyard for La Gramière is made up of several small fields scattered among a very large area of vines. The “vineyard sharing” concept is popular in France.

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard

Amy and Mark Kling of La Gramière

Other than Amy and Matt, there are no paid employees at the winery. They have discovered that there are plenty of volunteers who are more than happy to help harvest the crop.

The Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard

To harvest grapes you have to start early in the morning. The temperature should not be too hot . The day Pat and I volunteered, the weather was sunny and cool.

When we reached the vineyard, everyone had on their work gloves. Clippers and buckets were in their hands. Pat and I put on borrowed garden gloves and we grabbed the rest of the gear.

After brief instructions: “go two by two and pick one vine at a time,” Pat and I split up. We’d spent enough time together! Besides, there were others there we wanted to get to know.A delightful new friend from Canada and I teamed up. She is an artist and lives in Vers-Pont du Gard. We became instant buddies.

 Amy and Matt have made the vendange routine somewhat of a game.

“Who can finish first?” Taking one long row of vines at a time, we worked in three or four pairs interspersed down the row. We’d “jump over” the slower pickers. Then we’d move onto another row. It kept chit-chat with your partner down to a minimum since you had the same goal.

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard La Gramière vineyard



When grapes are ready to harvest they are bursting with juice. That means you must handle the bunch gently when you cut it off the vine.


A simple garden clipper does the trick. 

Vendange Garden clippers easily remove the cluster of grapes from the vine.


“Only pick the best grapes,” we were told.  Any clusters that had rotten grapes or grapes that were too green or yellow should be discarded. Amy and Matt’s philosophy is “there are plenty of grape.” They want only the “pick of the crop” for La Gramière wines.

Vendange Grape picking at La Gramière


I’m not a wine connoisseur by any means, but I have a new appreciation for “bio” or organic wines.

Most consumer wines today are produced by companies that pick grapes with machines. I’ve seen the big machinery in the fields and observed the vines picked clean.


Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Bucket brimming with grapes ready to be sorted by hand

After filling our buckets, we dumped the grapes into small crates that were strategically placed among the rows of vines. Matt and helper rode through the vineyard and loaded each crate onto the back of a tractor.

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Tractor filled with harvested grapes


Time for a break!

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Cake and coffee brought to the vineyard by Amy’s mom, Cindy, is devoured by hungry workers


Mid-morning break

A couple of hours after bending over the vines and carrying our buckets to the crates for pick up, it was time for a break. The hungry crew quickly devoured the bundt cake that Amy’s mom, Cindy, baked for the occasion.

During this time of year, Amy’s mom and dad come to France from their home in Colorado to help with the harvest. A few years ago they bought a place in the village of Vers-Pont du Gard. so they could be nearby. Apparently it didn’t take much persuading to convince them to help with the business, although I will say, it’s hard work.


Then it’s back to the vineyard

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard There’s a whole field of grapes. Who’ll miss a few?
Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Pat “pretending” to be busy clipping grapes

Before too long,  Cindy shows up with her wagon and it’s quickly emptied with the next treat of the day. 

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard The lunch wagon has arrived


La vendange lunch

After our chores, those of us who finished early helped bring folding chairs to the table that was set up near the edge of one of the vineyards. All the accoutrements for the outdoor feast were there, including a tablecloth, which we weighed down with rocks found alongside the field. A breeze had kicked up a bit and blew slightly over the field, just enough to blow away an untethered cloth.  Soon it was time to eat!

Green salad loaded with tomatoes picked from the garden that morning; lasagna Provence-style; apricot crumble; and just enough wine to insure we could all find our way home safely.

Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard One of the helpers adds the finishing touches to the  green salad, piled with tomatoes  from her garden


Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Salad with garden tomatoes


Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Lasagna Provence-style


Vendange at Castillon-du-Gard Apricot crumble


Vendange at Castillon-du-GardLe

Now I know why Amy and Matt never have to look far to find helpers for their harvest. Mom’s a fabulous “chef,” plus, the company and atmosphere are hard to beat.

After a leisurely lunch,  those of us on the work crew packed up and went home. For Amy and Matt, their long day of sorting grapes by hand was just beginning.


4 replies »

  1. Yes, it really does sound like a great way to spend a day. This is another fabulous blog posting with some great pictures Debby. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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