Inside the Champagne Harvest

Chardonnay Grapes in Champagne, France

I’m very proud to announce that my story. “A Certain Sparkle” (AFAR magazine, Nov/Dec, 2012), has just won an award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors! To celebrate, I thought I’d take you inside the harvest, with some additional photos from my experience as a vendangeur, picking grapes for a Champagne-producing family in Hautvillers, France. Champagne is a vast patchwork of vineyards, but they’ve been divided over the years until some plots are just a few rows. Three types of grapes go into a classic Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. I picked all three of them when researching my story.

The Champagne Vineyards of Hautvillers

Harvesting grapes is hard work. We started before sunrise, after a breakfast of bread and homemade jam. By 9:30 or so, it’s time to eat again. Out in the fields, we noshed on cheese, meats, bread and chocolate – washed down with wine, of course!

Morning Break at the Champagne Harvest - With Wine, of Course!

But the vendanges isn’t all work. Below, some harvesters are having some fun with Vincent Bliard, the winemaker whose grapes I helped harvest. These pickers, who all have other jobs, gather every year to harvest the Bliard family’s grapes. Some have been returning for more than 30 years.

Good Times at the Champagne Harvest

  The Bliard family maintains the old harvest tradition of housing and feeding their 20 grape-pickers. Meals are homemade, hearty and lots of fun. The pickers – who take vacation time to come work the harvest – bring treats from around France and Belgium to share with everyone. Read more about what we ate in my AFAR story.

Dinner with the Harvest Crew in Champagne

Nearly every home in the village of Hautvillers has a handmade iron sign that reflects the occupant’s profession – and nearly every profession is something related to making Champagne. It’s wonderful to stroll around this town where Dom Perignon lived and look at all the signs – not to mention sampling some local bubbly!

The cute, quirky signs of Hautvillers in Champagne

When you visit Hautvillers, Champagne G. Tribaut is the perfect spot for a tasting. The friendly, English-speaking family provides a warm welcome, and you don’t need an appointment to sip and enjoy their wines along with the glorious view.

A beautiful spot for Champagne tasting

  Now, let us pray. This tongue-in-cheek prayer is posted on a house in the village of Hautvillers:

We should all be saying this prayer!

Here’s the translation: MORNING PRAYER Give me health for a long time, Work, not too often, Love, from time to time, But Champagne all the time. Want to learn more about Champagne and the harvest? Go inside the vendanges in my story for AFAR. And, keep up with all my adventures by following me on Twitter.          

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