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A brief history of grape harvesting


Renowned for their conviviality and lively atmosphere, the harvest is a very special time for the winemaker that marks the end of a year's work in the vineyard. It is a crucial time in determining the quality of the future vintage, and has been a key stage in winemaking for thousands of years.
Wine course Harvesting the grapes in Rhone Valley

 

The French word for harvesting grapes, "vendanges", comes from the term "vendémiaire" which refers to the months of September and October in the republican calendar of 1792. But well before this, the first traces of vines being cultivated date back to the Bronze Age (around 2 200 to 800 years BC) in Israel and Palestine. At that time, the first known references appear of grapes being harvested by sedentary populations as opposed to nomads.

Later in France, the first traces of cultivating grapes date to the Iron Age (around 800 to 52 years BC) in the Vaucluse, Hérault and Gard regions in the south of France. At this time vines were cultivated and a harvest planned, all with the objective of making wine.

Harvest in the Rhone Valley

Historically, the date was set for the beginning of the harvest in each region, which marked the start of the harvest and often gave rise to lively parties to celebrate its beginning. However, once the start date had been set, it was always up to the winemaker to decide when to actually start the harvest depending on the acidity and sugar levels in the grapes in the different vineyard plots. There are still a few remaining annual harvest celebrations such as those in Montmartre, Paris or Banyuls.

A few sayings have been passed on down through the generations, such as the one that says the harvest will begin 100 days after the vines have flowered. Having asked our partner winemakers if there is any truth in it, it would appear that the start of the harvest is very close, but it rarely falls exactly 100 days later, the weather having being fairly fickle the last few years!

Harvest French course Rhone Valley

Another custom that has survived despite the mechanisation of harvesting in some wineries, is the arrival of seasonal staff to help out with the harvest. It is the team of harvesters that make the atmosphere so lively during this time. If you are looking to get involved in the harvest, many winemakers are looking for motivated and hard working people. You normally need to be available for the duration of the harvest, and be flexible about the days which you work, because the decision of whether to harvest or not is often taken on the eve of the following day.

Or if you prefer to start with just one day, why not participate in one of the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days!

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