(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 of a two-part series on working in the French vineyards during the wine grape harvest. You can see Pt. 1 here.)
It’s hard work, but the there’s no better way to understand the fundamentals of French wine culture than picking grapes during the vendange, the harvest season. But fellow expats in France, you need to start planning now for the fall.
You will need to bring your ID, such as your carte de séjour, proving you are allowed to work in France, and Carte Vitale and RIB from your bank in order to get paid.
And by the way, any farmer who uses free labor to pick grapes is breaking the law with the Mutualité Sociale Agricole (MSA). The MSA is the social security that covers agriculture in France and in charge of the prevention of occupational risks as well as the conditions of agricultural workers in the country.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Think about what you want to get out of the experience. Some folks go for the vineyards with fancy swimming pools and luxury estate digs. Some like organic wines while others want to work for a famous cellar master.
Whichever you choose, it pays off to do some research and be picky about picking where you pick.
NO WORK PERMIT? COME FOR THE FUN OF IT
If you do not have a work permit that qualifies you to pick grapes, the next best thing is to skip the work and just come for the fun. Everyone can participate in the celebrations that include fireworks, parades, torches and lots of wine.
Burgundy is famous for its vineyard visits and wine tastings in late October. Check with the local tourist information office here.
WHAT TO WEAR
The grape harvest season runs from August into October depending on the region.
Dress in layers and wear waterproof non-slip shoes. Many folks wear gloves to protect their hands. In rainy areas in the fall, a hooded raincoat, poncho or the top/pant combo and waterproof hats are recommended and don’t forget to wear rubber boots.
For after work, wear casual clothing and don’t forget something to sleep in, shower shoes, toiletries and towels.
• Vendange – grape harvest
• Vendangeur – grape picker
• Vigneron – cultivates the grapes
• Viticulture – grape growing
• Vintner – makes or sells wine
• Contre-maitre – vineyard employee who oversees picking
• Coupeur – cuts bunches of grapes from the vine
• Hotte – large basket/bucket with straps; carried on one’s back and used to transport grapes
(Author’s note: Short pants are not allowed because of the hazards of working in the vineyards. Shorts and sandals should be reserved for after the work day.)
About the author:
Alice Verberne is a freelance artist and writer who purchased the École des Vatelottes in 1999. The historic building is located three hours southeast of Paris in the rural hilltop village of Bourmont, France. Her mission is to create an atelier as a meeting point to connect visitors to local artisans. She works as a consultant for GB Marketing Research Solutions writing feasibility studies for entrepreneurs.
Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in one of the Petites Cités de Charactère de France (a small city of character) where she enjoys chatting with visitors and adventuring with locals.