This story takes place somewhere in the Loire, and what you see on this page is still a routine, if festive, yearly activity for many families of farmers in the Loire and in other parts of France. This is a story about the few rows of vines that some farmers keep to make wine for themselves. The wine that is going to be made from these few rows will never land on the market and will never be sold. If I had to give my guess about the regions where they are the more widespread(I don't have the statistics and these private harvests are not going into the official figures), I would say the Loire, the Beaujolais, the Languedoc, plus some parts of the southern Rhone (maybe Jura too). Many small farmers and older country folks still own a few rows of vineyards that they use to make their own wine. It is a survival from a bygone autarcic economic-model when there was no grower living exclusively from grape growing, winemaking being a side activity along with other crop growing. I have visited quite a few unrenovated old farms in the Loire and there is hardly one which doesn't have an outbuilding with all the winemaking tools (even if often in beyond-repair condition), a press, cement vats, a few casks. These vineyards are often composed of a handful of rows, sometimes as little as 3 rows stuck between fields and/or near woods. Most of the time, these farmers don't have the machinery for the harvest and rely on help from family and friends to harvest the grapes. If not with this enduring, self-sufficiency-minded tradition, these private rows would have been uprooted long ago, and that's by the way what is going to happen to half of these particular private rows this winter : they have two such vineyard-planted plots a couple of hundred meters apart, each with 3 to 5 rows of vines, and one has to go because this is too much work to tend for the elderly retired farmer who is the official owner. It will be plowed and overlapped by the field nearby. Thierry Puzelat, in the Loire, iniated a special cuvée in 2007, made from a collection of tiny such private plots from which he bought the grapes through a non-profit group dedicated to save them : "le Rouge est Mis" is the name of this cuvée , a red Pinot Meunier, a beautiful, peppery wine made with a now minor variety. He made two casks of this wine. I hope he'll repeat that operation because first, the wine is good, and second, because it helps prevent these tiny isolated plots from being uprooted and from melting into the fields nearby.
The harvest, which was to be finished in a single morning, concerned these 5 rows and another 3 rows a few hundred meters away. On the first site there was mostly Gamay, plus some Arbois (Menu Pineau), and on the second, Gamay and a row of Cot (Malbec). A good tool can be used for ever, if properly cared of, and these old shears seemed to do a very good job, but local country folks are not into vintage craze, and the rest of the tools were normal plastic buckets, a back-basket, and a tractor-pulled gondola.
For us wine lovers who have some interest about the vinification styles and their results in the wine, this seems an extraordinary chance to have all these tools at hand (plus the yeasts cultures that probably inhabit the walls of this old cellar) and a few rows of vines (including rare minor varieties !) dedicated for what can be described best as an artisanal wine. But for many country people, this is for granted and it has always been part of their life. The young boy who took part to this harvest day told me that this tradition was very old indeed : "it started at least in... [looking at the sky and thinking intensely]....I am born in 2000 and I have always seen this harvest every year..."
Probably the best moment of the day was the lunch at the couple's farm a couple of kilometers away, which took place a few minutes after this last picture was shot : all the family and friends who took part shared a lunch prepared by the elderly woman. This is a festive meal, 20 people around a large table, probably outside or under an open barn with this kind of weather. Being not intimate, I didn't take part but I can imagine that it makes eventually forget the tiredness of the work, the hands and clothes sticky with grape juice, and it comes as a relief when the harvest day has been ruined by rain and mud, like last year's.
There's one thing I'll ask, the next time I see the elderly couple, it is to taste the wine, or maybe (should I dare it ?) to have a bottle to bring back to the big city, a bottle no money can buy...