One more vendange come and gone…

September 12, 2017 at 3:51 pm 4 comments


The vendange has already come and gone: the beginning of the vendange, on August 30, was exceptionally early this year. (Last year at this time it hadn’t even started yet; and when I picked grapes in this same area in 1978, it didn’t begin until early October. Want to argue about climate change, anyone?)

This year when I cautiously asked local vignerons, in a very hopeful tone of voice, whether this year was better than last, they all smiled and said, yes, it was. (“Not great, but better than last year.”) And so, a collective sigh of at least partial relief could be sensed throughout this area. Because, as I heard over and over again last year, last year was catastrophique.

Work projects, visitors, and a bit of traveling kept me from being able to spend as much time with my friends at the pressoir this year. Last year I was privileged to be able to peek in on their activity every couple of days, and every time I did so I learned something new and interesting. And was lucky enough to be invited to join them several times for lunch also. Vive la vie francaise! (Et merci, mes amis! 🙂 ).


But this year I did at least manage to stop in to say a quick bonjour, the day before picking began, and again on the last day of picking.

And I was kindly invited once again to join them in their end-of-vendange celebration known, at least in this part of France, as le chien (or, to faire le chien). This is the celebration that is hosted by vignerons for their grape pickers, clients, and partners after all the grapes have been gathered. It features–like most celebrations of pretty much anything in France–wonderful food, and of course here in Champagne, plenty of champagne. (There are two vague theories as to the meaning behind the term faire le chien: one has to do with the position of the star Sirius (known as “the dog star”) at the end of summer, or harvest-time. The other has to do, as best I have been able to gather with my less-than-perfect French, has to do with something akin to coming to the end of what we would call in English, “working like a dog.” (And that is a very apt analogy. Picking grapes is hard work!)

And so, life goes back to another kind of normal here in Essoyes. The kids have started back to school; local merchants will now be able to predict once again how to stock their shelves (it’s pretty unpredictable during the vendange). The daily rhythm of huge trucks with their loads of empty crates heading up into the hills early in the morning and coming back down several times a day, now loaded with freshly-picked grapes, will change. The nightly clanking and crashing sounds from the pressoir across the field from us will stop; I will no longer see lights blinking there, evidence of my friends’ late-into-the-night-work when I go to bed; and the breezes will cease to have those occasional hints of ever-so-slightly-grape-flavored scents in the air.

And as all of those things return to normal, the vignerons will continue their painstaking, year-round work, of turning the juice from those grapes into the heavenly bubbly wine we call champagne. 

Aren’t we all so lucky for that?

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY.



Entry filed under: About Essoyes, About France. Tags: , , , , , .

La rentrée, La vendange, à Essoyes Early Autumn in Essoyes

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. charliecountryboy  |  October 21, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Interesting post, i picked in Languedoc-Roussillon 1976 and just doing a little post I was going to link to your post if that is ok? 🙂

    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  October 21, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      sure, that would be fine! thanks for asking…

  • 3. So, I Left Home (4) | Charliecountryboy's Blog  |  October 23, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    […] We discovered that our new-found friends were headed to Perpignan en France to gain employment in La vendange (an interesting read if you follow the link). The Master decided that we should join the two […]

  • 4. Carolyn Page  |  November 5, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    An enjoyable read, Janet. I’ve followed Charliecountryboy’s link, and very pleased I did… 🙂


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