We are now in mid-autumn and the wine harvest – Les vendanges – is drawing to a close. Without being side-tracked into discussing the British wine-making tradition – it was introduced by the Romans – it would be accurate to suggest that it is an aspect of French life that has no parallel in the UK. Les vendanges cannot begin until the local prefecture, or council, decrees after expert advice to ‘lever le ban des vendanges’ (lift the ban) on picking the vines.  As France has over 750,000 hectares of vineyard you might find that hand picking the grapes (many wine growers believe that machines may damage fragile grapes) can take a fortnight and as this requires a considerable amount of labour many citizens volunteer to assist in the harvest in return for room and board.

It is at this time of the year one starts to really appreciate how the Château and the surrounding countryside does not belong to a part of the world that apparently lies dormant after the end of the summer season. It is a part of the lifecycle of the Loire Valley, which continues every day of the year. ‘Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know’ wrote John Keats and indeed that time will return in April. But for now, we may anticipate Christmas and,  at midnight on the third Thursday of November, the nationwide Nouveau Beaujolais Festival (Fête du Beaujolais Nouveau). After all, did not the great Roland Barthes contend that ‘Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect which is sought: wine is not only a philtre, it is also the leisurely act of drinking.’