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