Last week was another wine-picking week for many folks across the Var region, and for a few innocent adopted locals also.
The Vendanges were early this year since 2007 brought warm weather to our region and to all of Provence.
We moseyed on across the rounded fields of the Dracénie region, by the old town of les Arcs, by Taradeau, and into Lorgues. Between Les Arcs and Lorgues, narrow little tractors bounced on the country road, pulling bènes (large metal containers) filled with freshly harvested grapes. The tractors are narrow to squeeze between rows of vines without damaging them.
We began the arduous work of grape picking in the wee hours of the morning, at 10 a.m. sharp. The Domaine St. Marc des Omèdes was the perfect place to vendange for a couple of reasons:
- It's owned by a wonderful couple, Lindsay and Anne Marguerite Phillips, who generously welcomed grape picking newbies;
- Lindsay and Anne paid needed help in bottles of wine, a currency we enjoy being pegged to;
- Domaine St. Marc des Omèdes is the self-proclaimed smallest British-owned vineyard in Provence - les Vendanges, we deducted, couldn't be all that difficult on such a human-scaled Domaine;
Armed with a bucket per hand, and a set of rustic clippers, we squatted over the rows of tightly bunched carignan grapes and snipped.
"Carignan," said Lindsay, "used to be widely harvested around here but it was associated with bad acidic red wine."
A decade ago, the carignan vines were plugged out of many local vineyards and replaced with more fashionable varieties.
"Only a few old Carignan vines remain here today," said Lindsay. "We trim them to have them produce less quantity and higher quality, but we keep these ancient vines preciously."
We snipped, rather silently at first and soon with good banter.
"Don't tug at the grapes," said Lindsay, "just snip along."
After a row of snipping, I learned to nudge my bucket right under the grapes to have them plop into the bucket in a thump. It was a thrilling thump.
"Don't go so fast," said the French expert picker who also raced back and forth between pickers and the bène, emptying buckets into the fast-filling bène.
By row three, I started to look up at the rest of the bushy rows. There were many.
By row six of the low-lying, old knotted Carignan vines, the vineyard seemed like the largest-owned of any nationality.
"Care for a nice cup of tea?" asked Lindsay around four o'clock. As we slumped to the side of the path, clippers on the ground by our sides, with a well-fed bène behind us and a cool breeze whooshing over our heads, the parcel looked friendly again. It looked like a little parcel of vines we could clip and comb by hand until the sun began to dip towards the hills.
Domaine St. Marc des Omèdes
83510 Lorgues France