fête de vendange

/fett duh vohn-dahnj/
[French] plural fêtes de vendange

The vendange or grape harvest is rounded off by the fête de vendange. It usually involves a vast feast of food and wine and party pieces being performed by one and all. I attended one having picked grapes for the harvest at La Conseillante in St Emilion in 1973. It took me several weeks to recover from this remarkable event. My first marriage had failed and I went to Bordeaux to seek work and was sent out to La Conseillante. I arrived on a chilly afternoon to find two wild girl children running barefoot around the house. After a short while a wonderfully elegant woman arrived to find me sitting on the doorstep looking dejected clutching my rucksack. Amazingly, this chic lady welcomed me into her house, found me an extravagantly beautiful dress and took me to a reception at the house of the Mayor of Libourne. I slept in the upper floor of the chaotic house for a few days until the vendangeurs arrived, gypsies, local workers, Hans from Copenhagen, an unhappy public school boy from England and a few lads from Paris. Over the coming days we worked - boy how we worked - knees cracking as we bent to the vines, we worked our way up and down the lines, with runners taking the full baskets and replacing them with empty ones so that we could never cease the labour. But we sang as we worked and, as the only girl, I was twirled around by various of my workmates when the opportunity arose, and a young gypsy called Philippe courteously carried my basket for me when it become too heavily laden and called the runner for me. At the end of each day we would retire to the monastic dining room, a great barn of a room with wooden beams and long, well worn tables. The food was fabulous - or we were very hungry - and the heavenly wine flowed generously. And then we would stagger to the dormitory which we all shared and Mignon, the farm manager, would heat a vat of wine and spices over a stove in the centre of the room and bring a dip-cup of the mixture to each of us in bed. We slept then. And breakfast each day was a great bowl of coffee, swilled out with wine to get us started! At the end the local workers were called in to be paid, and then the gypsies, ready to move north to the next vendange, and then the foreign workers, all male except me. When I was called, last and alone, Monsieur Bernard said "This was hard work for everyone. But for you it was harder because you are a woman. And so I pay you more." Not bad, eh? I have never really been able to thank that remarkable family for rescuing me at a very sad time in my life.