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Festive Meals
During the Champagne Grape Harvest

Celebrating the Champagne Harvest
Collection CIVC

At harvest time in Champagne, whatever the September weather might be - raining or balmy Indian summer - the pickers are always in good spirits because the grape harvests are moments of great conviviality.

This is the time of year when large numbers of people flock from all over the country to take part in a unique form of collective activity: manual grape picking in Champagne.

For around two weeks, the 30,000 hectares of vineyards in Champagne teem with an army of pickers gathering thousands of tons of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Champagne Picnic
Photo : John Hodder
Collection CIVC

Grape picking may be the main activity but meal times are one of the highlights of the harvest, symbolizing moments of sharing and well-earned rest. The vendangeoir (part of the cellar where the grapes are received and weighed) is converted into a huge refectory. The atmosphere is warmly inviting and everyone is in party spirits. The mistress of the house and her team serve their guests, and the glasses flush crimson with red wine from Champagne (Coteaux Champenois Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) or silver with Champagne itself.

Coteaux Champenois may be white or red and, although not nearly so well known as Champagne wines, is produced throughout the Champagne viticultural region. The red wines are made from black Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes and the white wines are made from Chardonnay.

The food is simple and full of flavor, served in generous quantities to satisfy the pickers' ferocious appetites. It is cooked on site or by a local cook who specializes in cuisine de terroir: traditional, well-balanced country fare based on regional specialties. Dishes include the celebrated potée champenoise (a local version of meat and vegetable stew), assorted vegetables with charcuterie (potatoes, white beans, carrots) and braised pork. Other favorites are vegetables cooked au gratin (potatoes, cauliflower) and various meats in sauces such as ragouts, stews and blanquettes (stewed white meat in white roux sauce).

Champagne Harvest Ice Buckets
Photo : Huyghens - Danrigal
Collection CIVC

The long awaited moment is the dessert that offers a selection of rich, succulent puddings to round off the meal, a delight for any sweet tooth. They inject fresh energy, spurring the pickers to conquer new slopes with renewed vim and vigour. Traditional favorites are cakes such as clafoutis, rice pudding, plum pudding, Madeira cake, choux à la crème ; fruit tarts made with apples, rhubarb, quince, plums and pears ; and that specialty of the house, grape tarts.

At some point in the meal, the pickers raise their glasses in festive mode to drink a glass of that most traditional of all the Champagne wines: non-vintage Brut Champagne. The occasion would not be complete without it.

About the Author:
CIVC Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne - the trade association representing Champagne Houses and Growers.

More about champagne harvest season around the Web:

Inside the Champagne Harvest



also see -> How to "Pop" Champagne | Pairing Champagne & Food for Special Occasions

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