During the late 1970s, when the world was young and the highlight of a Thursday evening was George and Mildred on ITV, “Harvest” had two meanings for this scribe. Firstly, it meant a stream of Ford Cortina Mk. IVs and Hillman Avengers along the A32 headed by a slow-moving Ferguson tractor. Secondly, the Harvest Festival at my local school, where many of the donations from the students (or, more likely, their parents) came in a tinned form. The memory of the headmaster’s resigned stare at a display featuring “Ideal Milk” and the Co-Op’s finest Baked Beans will remain with me forever.
However, the harvest in the Loire Valley and indeed throughout France takes a somewhat different form. The weather during spring and summer dictate the precise timing; during the latter season, wine experts will examine the grapes 100 days after the flowering of the vines. If all is favourable, a date for the harvest is set by the town hall – the “lever le ban des vendanges”. This inevitably varies throughout the country – in Corsica this might take place at the end of August, but around Chateau de Bois Giraud it is more likely to occur in September.
And even in 2019, French viticulture is still heavily reliant upon manual labour as many wines are deemed to need a human touch and several varieties of grape are regarded as too delicate to be harvested by machine. A hand can also result in the stem being cleanly cut; essential if it is to be used for fermentation, During late summer and early autumn , you might obtain temporary work as a “coupeur” – grape picker – or “porteur” – basket carrier, both of which demands considerable physical fitness. I prefer to watch such activities from a safe distance and merely appreciate a world far removed from the aroma of Hampshire soft fruits. And of the idea that a can of Sainsbury’s Peaches in Syrup represented nature’s bounty.