Hwee Hwee Laurence reports from south-west France:
October is the time for les vendanges or grape harvest. The wine of this southwest region of France is classified under the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) Cahors and is a dark- red, almost black wine. The vineyards of AOC Cahors are found around the city of Cahors and along the banks of the River Lot. Grape harvest is always an important and festive time and when we hear, in the distance, the familiar whrr-whrr-whrring of the grape-harvest machine, we always pray for good weather for the farmers to complete their harvest.
The vineyard behind our house belongs to the family Grialou of the Domaine du Buis. This is a totally family-owned and -worked farm which also rears cows. When the Grialou family is here trimming or inspecting the vines, I always make it a point to bake a cake and invite them for a cup of tea.
Domaine du Buis harvests its grapes by machine. Of course, it is not as romantic as harvesting by hand, but nevertheless very impressive. Usually, the vines are trimmed for one last time before the harvest to get rid of excess leaves and to leave the bunches of grapes hanging clear. At harvest-time, the machine passes over each row of vines and literally sucks up the grapes. The grapes (juice and all) are then emptied into a truck and brought back to the domaine to be processed. After the harvest, our garden and the land around always smells strongly of wine due to the crushed grapes and spilt grape juice.
There are many other domaines within walking distance of our house but the one I like best is Château la Gineste. The owners, Ghislaine and Gérard Dega, are very friendly people who allow me complete freedom to bring my Singapore or overseas visitors to oohh and aaahh over their beautifully-kept château and vineyards, and of course, to indulge in a session of wine-tasting. Their vineyards are pesticide-free and grapes for their best wine (Grand Secret) are hand-harvested. The majority of their wines are aged for about sixteen months in oak barrels. Hand-harvesting is a family affair – sometimes relatives come from far and wide to help. Workers laugh and chat while harvesting, and look forward to the truck (to collect the grapes) bringing them some sustenance of dried sausage and baguettes.
After the harvest, October continues to be a busy month for the wine-producers, with grapes to be pressed and juice stored for fermentation. After things have quietened down, the domaines often host a feast for family and friends, rather like Thanksgiving in America.
As I look out of my window, the now-silent vineyards are slowing turning gold. Soon the leaves will drop, making a nice rustling sound as they are blown by the wind, and the bare but sturdy vines will remind me that, before long, winter will be upon us.