09 September 2011

Vendanges and old friends

Yesterday morning my friend Bob — we were in grad school together back in the 1970s — came along on my morning walk with Callie the collie. Just out back, we saw two of the crew from the Domaine de la Renaudie harvesting grapes.

Harvesting around Saint-Aignan is mostly done mechanically, by machines. The grape-growers use special harvesters that straddle a row of vines. As the harvester moves down the row, it gives the vines a good shake that loosens the grapes, which are then sucked up into a vat.

The grape harvester moving along a row of vines
sucking up the grapes

When the vat is full, the guy driving the harvester dumps the grapes into a trailer pulled by a tractor. While he harvests some more, his co-worker drives the trailer-load of grapes down to the winery, where they are pressed. The juice is made into wine.

The harvester dumping its load of grapes into a trailer
to be hauled to the winery and pressed

Not all the harvesting is done by machines, however. A little further out in the vineyard, we came across a group of 20 or so people who were picking grapes my hand. They had big black plastic buckets into which they tossed the grapes as they cut the bunches off the vines with clippers. Unfortunately, I was so fascinated watching the process that I completely forgot the take pictures. Maybe I'll get another chance over the next few days.

Finally, here's a picture of Bob and Norma in front of the Château de Chambord for those of you who know them or have heard me talk about them. Spending a couple of days with old friends — we hadn't seen each other in at least 30 years, and hadn't been in touch much either — was one of those experiences where you just naturally pick up where you left off all those years ago.

Bob and Norma at Chambord — I snorted and they laughed...

Bob said he had wondered whether we would find things to talk about, and then we talked non-stop for 48 hours. He and I were graduate students together in the French department at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana from 1971 until 1977, when he moved to Boston for a teaching job, met Norma, and got married. I was an usher at their wedding in 1978 before I headed off in 1979 for a three-year stay in Paris.


  1. You and Walt are two wonderful hosts. What a great reunion after almost 30 years of going in different directions, and it was certainly facilitated by this blog and other common friends from Illinois days who make an effort to stay in touch (yes, that's you, Harriet).

    The walk in the vineyards was idyllic and seeing the two types of harvesting (machine and by hand) was a nice touch for you to have arranged, Ken. Chenonceaux and its gardens (formal & vegetable) were special moments, too.

    But as those who have come to know you, Ken, through your blog can attest, you are the sine qua non that makes it all happen. You have carved out a terrific nitch there in Saint-Aignan with Walt, and Norma & I feel privileged to have seen a slice of your day to day living, which is after all what it is all about.

  2. I'm a bit addicted to your blog. It's one of the first things I open after my mail and if you haven't yet posted the day's missive (as happened today), I get very disappointed and then thrilled when I return later and it's there.
    Today's post is another excellent one. It's cloudy in Paris and I'm remembering a walk through those very vinyards.

  3. It's always nice to see old friends, even if you have nothing to talk about! LOL

  4. I used to read a newspaper in the morning - too depressing and celebrity obsessed- now I read Ken's blog. Need I say more?

  5. I look forward to reading your blog every morning, too, with my coffee and breakfast.

    It's so nice that you and Bob were able to visit and catch up :)

  6. i too have breakfast with Ken & Walt......it's great that u could connect with old friends....

  7. It's always special to reconnect with old friends and find you are still friends and kindred spirits.

    I have a cottage by Lake Chautauqua and watch them harvest grapes for Welsh's grape juice by the shores of Lake Erie nearby, but I didn't think there were machines for harvesting wine grapes. I've also helped in hand harvesting at a cousin's small vineyard near Lake Balaton in Hungary. We wore a sort of basket over our shoulders and put the grapes into that.

    I love reading your blog because you make your life in Saint-Aignan so amazingly real and I feel as if another world had opened for me.

  8. Love seeing Bob and Norma. Claude told us they were coming the day after our lunch together.

    Old friends are so much fun since they remember us when we were young! It's wonderful that you had this time together to catch up on all the memories.

    It's a good thing Linda taught us the "snort" lol.

  9. Yes, I, too, look forward to opening up your blog nearly every day. Your writing style is such an easy read. It lets me 'be in the picture' so to say. I feel like I, too, am so engrossed watching the grapeworkers picking the grapes that I forget to get out my camera. After all, haven't we all had similar experiences?

    And then you write that you and Bob were at U of I in Urbana (my daughter and I looked at that University when we were living in Libertyville, IL. Her orchestra performed there and I was a chaperone). There are a lot of coincidences that I read in both yours and Walt's blog.

    Your blog just feels so 'homey' to me!

    Mary in Oregon

  10. Just outside of Barcelona, I got to see the part of the grape harvest when they bring the trailer full of grapes to the vats where they start the process of making the wine.

  11. Same experience here with old-old friends. Isn't it wonderful?

    As you know, you and Walt are my first reads every day. I'm just like everyone else. :-)

    Sunny here today; lots of fog last night in SF. The deYoung looked haunted.

    Verification word is ensuids, which sounds like that nice French word for "next."

  12. Génial ! Je suis contente pour toi !

  13. Have been lurking, and enjoying your blog, for a while now. I second everyone's appreciation for your writing and photos!

    I was in Urbana in 1970-71, not as a graduate student but as a completely green and excited freshman, away from home for the first time - perhaps the Illinois connection helped me connect so readily with your great blog! Thank you!


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