What happens after the grape harvest? Well, it is December now and you could well be forgiven for thinking that it is winter – the season of festive cheer; cosy fireplaces to ward off the chill of long nights and the possibility of snow ever present. Here in Provence, the weather can be rather cold as well, with long periods of rain, but mostly the mid-afternoon sun manages to warm you just enough.
What you might not know is that work doesn’t stop just because winter has set in. If you drive along the roads along the vineyards you may spot a couple of people in the amongst the vines. What are they up to? Pruning. Taking the vines right back to the trunk, in preparation for next year. As mentioned in a previous post, working a vineyard is hard work, and you need to put in the hours in preparation for next year. I guess I would call it – the Season of Preparation then.
And by the way – Truffle season is now starting. Although the locals reckon you need to wait for February for the best (ripest) truffles, recent tradition dictates that it is on the Christmas menu. The market closest to us in Aups, a twenty-minute drive away and one of the biggest markets in Provence, a charming little village definitely worth a visit during the summer, but this video gives an impression of the truffle market:
I first noticed the seasonal changes in August when we stumbled across the Lavender Harvest just north of Cotignac. If you imagined fields of purple stretching to the horizon then you won’t be disappointed. The sheer scale of lavender production is hard to take in I guess – we only saw a small cross-section around the Gorge du Verdon and it was mind-blowing. But get here in time, during the busy tourist season because before you know it the harvest will have taken place – towards the end of July.
Possibly the biggest export from Provence, but in fermented, liquid form. Dry Rosé is known around the world as having its origins in the south-east corner of France. And, yes, the roads are lined with vineyards in every valley. I found it interesting to see just where they were situated. Contrary to my earlier perception that they are on large flat fields stretching to the horizon, they are absolutely everywhere – a few rows in someone’s backyard or jammed in a narrow valley between wild forests, or hillsides draped in vines and interspersed among olive groves. Basically anywhere you could get a tractor into.
Hectares of grape-heavy vines wait patiently for just the right moment. And the weather has to play along as well. It rained in August/ September. It rained a lot. So judging the right moment became a difficult prospect, especially for the hand-pickers. What a machine can do in a day, takes a week by hand… But luckily a weather-window opened up and this year’s harvest is really good.
So, the grape harvest is over. We can all go and have a toast to the season and relax a bit, right? Well, just one thing – Olives. Around November the olive trees are ready to be harvested. Another major export from here. The grape vines and olive trees share a bit of history as well, something to do with most of the crop succumbing to a harsh winter period in the ’50s leading to the introduction of the other crop which yielded a harvest in half the time? (While the grapevines were recovering, the olive harvest provided an income for the farmers – correct me if I’m wrong). Sadly this year has been rather disappointing for the olive farmers. The yield was ten to twenty percent of the volume from last year (again, correct me if I’m wrong).
Would you believe that another harvest at the moment is oysters? The festive menu has to include oysters at this time of the year (between Christmas and new year). There are oysters everywhere, especially Marseilles, and you can order oysters with just about anything I suppose. Having said that – ‘Moules Frites’ (Mussels and ‘french’ fries are offered on most sidewalk cafés, which serves to show how popular seafood inspired menus are. Oysters on the (Christmas) menu at home can be the perfect starter accompanied by a dry Rosé?
So, where to from here? It seems that the harvest season doesn’t really stop at all, just leading from one into the other. Always something to do… If you thought life in a little village is slow, relaxed and calm, then take another look…