À la Recherche des Calories Perdues
On a typical day of the harvest, between the hours of 8 and 6 (depending on the estate and the weather) a picker might walk 22,000 steps – the equivalent of walking diametrically across Paris, twice over. A porteur might carry loads of up to 40 or 70kg in their hotte – comparable, in grape form, to giving a tall, muscular person a piggy-back.
All that physical exertion requires dedicated sustenance to replenish the body, and that’s why nourishment is a constant accompaniment throughout the harvest. In Bordeaux, at Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Duhart-Milon, breakfast, the oft-called most important meal of the day, rivals a hotel stay, with orange juice, bread and cheese, fresh fruit, and the salty-sweet lift of a chocolatine on the menu. 30 km east at Château L’Evangile, the day starts with madeleines; each estate is idiosyncratic in their favored patisserie.
If it’s cold, coffee is brought out to the vendangeurs to break the morning labour, and lunch is a multi-course affair, served family-style. At Lafite, we eat in the refectory dubbed Le Treytin, which has the footprint of an NBA basketball court. At Château L’Evangile, we never miss out on a cheese course. Is wine served? À discretion, meaning however much or little you like. A digestive coffee? Toujours.
Daily bread (and coffee) aside, when the last grape is picked, consumption culminates in la fête de la fin des vendanges, a sprawling, festive end-of-harvest meal, where the whole team comes together to sate and celebrate. Each region has a moniker for the moment — ‘cochelet’ en Champagne, ‘paulée’ en Bourgogne. In Bordeaux, it’s known as ‘la Gerbaude’ — a contraction of ‘gerbe baude’, meaning ‘joyful wheatsheaf,’ (borrowed from harvesting farmers who would raise up the best sheaf of the harvest to invite in good fortune).
So as we down tools and lift spirits, why not join us for a little gastronomic tour across the estates?
First of all to Domaine de Long Dai in China, where the exertion continues a little longer.
A sports day, one might say, to get into the party feeling. Drawing lots at random, the team is divided into groups who then duke it out – no slackers – in our very own Domaine de Long Dai olympics, featuring tug-of war, ring tosses, mini-basketball and fishing, all united by an oenological twist. Notice how all the sport equipment comes ‘pre-loved’ by the estate, with bottles and barrels featuring heavily, meaning the day conjures no new waste.
But this is an article about restoring burned calories. Firstly, the prizes for the games are food-themed, with flour, rice and peanut oil all up for grabs. And fitting for any fans of Umami-ish Shandong cuisine, the end-of-harvest dishes are copious, and the meat is bountiful (last year we served pork, three harvests ago, the much-prized protein of donkey). After all that hard work, salt and fat are centered – think fried pork belly – cut through with bright, punchy baijiu (a distilled spirit typically made from rice). For any vegetarians? Home-made tofu, made with Long Dai’s very own soybeans.
In South America, dancing is almost always on the menu.
At Viña Los Vascos, lunch at the ‘casino vendimia’ is a garland-lit, white table cloth affair, which melts into an afternoon of cueca and ranchera music.
Getting everyone in the mood for dancing? A chardonnay sour to start, ceviche with avocado, empanaditas, and of course, beef cooked on the asado.
Over the Andes in Bodegas CARO, ten different starters pave the way for a smorgasbord of flame-cooked meats: Costillar a las llamas (whole rib cooked over fire), Cerdo a las brasas (chargrilled pork), Chinchulines (braised intestine – a national favourite), Morcillas (blood sausage), choripan ( undried sausages served in bread with chimichurri sauce).
At Château L’Evangile, you might join the crew decamping to a restaurant we love called Les Marronniers, which stands in luminous sandstone in a nearby village. On the menu last year, among many things to choose from, salade périgourdine, rare entrecôte, gratin dauphinoise.
For this occasion, the grape-pickers and the vineyard team concocted some lovely songs for us all to sing along to (“Les vendanges sont derrières“). And not wanting to be outdone, the following year, the cellar team and office, cooked up a few ditties for them in return (a hit called “Viens voir les vendangeurs”). This year, in 2023, the gerbaude was held at Château L’Evangile, providing an opportunity to share a festive moment in the pleasant surroundings of the estate.
Last year at Rieussec, the menu was so good we forgot to take photos. Those who survived the subsequent food coma tell tall tales of foie gras, chicken ballotine, and exotic panna cotta entremet…
Finally, at Lafite and Château Duhart-Milon, after working tirelessly through the length of the vendange cooking 300 meals a day (with everything homemade – from the pastry dough, to the custard that accompanies the floating island, to the ratatouille: concocted using only the vegetables from the Lafite kitchen garden, methodically picked and stored throughout the summer), our chef Jean-Michel Lafarge and Ludivine Carré along with their team still pull out all the stops for the harvest-weary vendangeurs’ final meal.
Think slow-cooked lamb à la broche, or entrecôte grilled on vinewood. To celebrate the end of all that epic work, champagne is served as an aperitif, and after that, some very rare bottles indeed. Unlabelled in-house wine, made from our own grapes of course, which we keep — don’t we deserve it after all that hard physical labour? – exclusively for ourselves.