The Grape Harvest and a Car Problem


We have been passing a very difficult time trying to finish the vendange (the grape harvest) in the wettest summer and early autumn since the early 1980’s. 

We start, we finish, and we start again, depending on the weather.  In the morning we have an extra sweater, then its wet weather gear and then we are sweating in afternoon temperatures of 27°C, and that was just yesterday!!  The soil is damp and “claggy”, making it difficult to walk on, particularly for me as I tend to carry, “l’hotte’, this is a large plastic container carried on the back which is filled by the “coupeurs” as I walk up and down the rows, when full it can contain around 80kgs. and then one has to retrace ones steps, quite often up the slope, climb a ladder to the trailer and then, with a sort of twisting, throwing movement empty the grapes, over the head and shoulders and into the trailer. If, like me, you hate wearing hats when working, you finish the day with a hair style halfway between a Bryan Ferry and Sticky Toffee Pudding.  It is, to be frank, bloody murder, and anyone who has actually worked in the vineyards soon loses any romantic preconception of bucolic utopia. It is back breaking, hard slog for which people are paid the princely sum of SMIC, the French hourly minimum wage. I, as a, “hotteur” am paid substantially more, 8 centimes to be precise!  Not being stupid, I am, of course, looking for advice on investing this extra windfall!! 

 So, why do I do it?The last parcel of vines to harvest

Initially because it was good fun and although, in a previous incarnation, I knew lots about the theory of wine production, actually doing it has been, by far, the best, the most educational wine course I have ever taken.  It also offered another way of integrating into the community; after all you can’t spend every night in the bar!!   Now, to be honest,  I think I continue because it is a sign that I am not yet past it, my muscles have not given up the ghost altogether and somehow my body manages to cope with the unreasonable demands put on it.  In fact, the day that I can no longer do it is, I fear, the day I will buy some slippers, put my feet up and become a grumpy old man. (Sheila says that after years of practice, I have already qualified)!  I must also confess to a warm glow of perverse pleasure when someone thirty years younger has to cry off because the work is too hard. But, I am sure you will forgive this aberration, we are, after all, only human. 

During the periods when we have not been able to work I have finally managed to relieve myself of the Kia Carnival (Sedona)which, in an apparent moment of temporary insanity, I purchased two years ago. Beguiled by its looks, its leather seats, the DVD and other frivolities, I somewhat overlooked the fact that it was, in fact, what the French would call, “un tas de boue”, in other words a load of crap!   The Kia after-service is undoubtedly the absolute worst in the world, their employees having the misfortune of regarding their customers in much the same way as Hitler regarded the Jews.  They would make no concessions whatsoever when the clutch packed up after only 48,000 kms, only two days after one of the three different guarantee dates they had given me had expired and well within the other two (but, surprise, surprise, the expired date was the correct one!!).  Finally, after paying for a set of door handles to be replaced for the second time, without which the seven-seater people carrier was tastefully converted into a two-seater coupé, with the other five seats not being accessible at all; I decided that enough was enough.  

Incidentally Kia, having given the problem much thought, actually implied, and I kid you not, that I had used the doors too much!  I can only assume that these wily Orientals must have built a clever alternative access somewhere and that the doors were intended to be just of a decorative nature, the fact, that I thought I had pointed out quite reasonably, that doors are the universally accepted method of gaining egress to the interior of motor vehicles seemed to be something of a crazy, unproved notion to them, on a par with the theory of parallel universes.  Of course, the suggestion that the problem itself might have something to do with the fact that the door handles relied on what looked like cheap plastic toothpicks to hold each of the rear sliding doors, each of which is the weight of a medium sized ferry, was rejected out of hand! 

I am now beginning to understand why the ludicrous, buffon-haired, Stalinist dictator of neighbouring North Korea, Kim Jung-Il, appears to hate and fear the South Koreans so much. Perhaps he was once given a Kia as a present.  If so I can quite understand why he feels that the whole world is against him.

Just to finally make my day, the first Peugeot dealer I went to refused to accept it in part-ex, saying it was unsellable and, when I eventually accepted an offer from another, I calculated that I had lost 60% of the purchase value in less than two years. 

So, if anyone is tempted to buy a Kia, I would suggest that they lie down in a dark room for a while and then have a look at the hundreds of KIA owners remarks which one can find on the internet. (Apparently, early Carnivals were an on going experiment to verify the theory of Spontaneous Cumbustion. I am led to believe that, to this day, KIA refuse to accept any liability for the fact that a fair proportion of their production went up in flames!, perhaps they feel it is all the fault of the North Korean Secret Service.)  

Still, at least Sheila can throw away that tee-shirt which says, “I’M WITH STUPID, (He bought a KIA)”!! Having said that, she has now decided that we will have a small Peugeot Cabriolet. 

Me?  I am looking for a Tee shirt shop!!

à plus

Brian     accommodation in the loire valley


The Wine of Anjou – Les Rouges

To cover all of the 26 Appellations of Anjou in one blog would simply be too much.  Thus I will cover just the Reds here and the Blancs, Rosés Sparkling and ‘Sweeties’ in separate postings.          


The basic appellation is, of course, Anjou and, (for the reds), they are divided into the following sub-appellations.


Anjou Rouge

Anjou Village




Commercial production of red wine in Anjou is, (in French terms) in its infancy.  The Anjou appellation was only granted in 1936 and Anjou-Village not until 1987. California has produced reds longer than Anjou!!   In 1955 red production was only accounting for 1% of overall production and, as the market for rosés slowly declined, increasing amounts of red took their place. Vignerons turned to the variety they had continually used for the production of their sweet rosés, Cabernet Franc.  Having spent the 70’s and 80’s learning the ropes of red production, rouge now accounts for about 30% of overall production.


Anjou Rouge is designed for drinking within three years and is a gusty, fruity quaffer, brimming over with red berry flavours. It is a wine meant for socialising with your friends whilst you sit round discussing the day’s events.

Anjou Village is the next step up.  A serious wine, production is limited to 56 communes within Anjou.  Maceration is from two to four weeks as opposed to the ten to fifteen days usual for Anjou Rouge. As I said earlier, red production is very young in the region and perhaps, because of this, it is difficult to define exactly what a good Anjou Village should taste like. Producers are creating everything from huge new world look-alikes to elegant Saumur-Champigny like “taffeta” wines. The use of Cabernet Sauvignon is much more common than in Saumur and the chunkier more foursquare taste lends itself more readily to oak ageing.  Compared to the elegance of Saumur and of Champigny,  AnjouVillage often seems a more rustic, plainer wine. However, this is certainly not the case now and serious, hand crafted Cabernets are easy to find. The best have intense, red berry, cherry flavours, noticeable tannins and are supremely adaptable, being able to accompany almost any meat based course from steak to game.

Anjou-Village-Brissac is a very recent appellation given to the producers around Brissac-Quince in Le Coteaux l’Aubance who were the prime movers in obtaining the Anjou-Village appellation. The appellation covers ten communes sloping down towards the Loire.  I have to say that, whilst I have tasted some supreme examples of Brissac, I cannot say, hand on heart, that I have not tasted equally good wines from producers in the Layon.  Still, it is early days and time will tell. That is not to say that they are not great wines, dense, complex, full bodied and with robust tannins. It is just that other producers are doing the same thing elsewhere in Anjou.  Perhaps the difference is that, at least in theory, you should have an easier time discovering an excellent wine in the limited area of Brissac as opposed to searching the whole of Anjou.


The final red appellation is Anjou-Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. There are examples made by Maceration Carbonique, the same method used in Beaujolais production.  But most is made by standard methods which produces, like
Beaujolais is supposed to do, a purple, vibrant, fruity wine, made to drink quickly and with gusto.


Finally we should mention Grolleau. This is a local grape, long the mainstay of rosé production.  It is occasionally bottled as a red Vin de Pays by certain producers led, surprisingly enough, by the estate of the famous French actor Geraud Dépardieu at Chateau Tigné near Vihiers.  It produces a rustic, fruity quaffer best drunk slightly chilled and is none the worse for that.


There are literally 100’s of producers in Anjou and space, together with numerous different styles prevents me listing my favourites.  My advice would be to base yourself in the area for a week or two and try as many as you can!!  Probably the biggest problem is that I do not think that the range of Red Anjou available in the UK  (for instance) is at all representative of the quality and diversity which one can find in the region.  If anyone would like any advice on bottles they find on their local shelves I would be happy to help if I can.  


Bon dégustation!

Brian           Accommodation in Loire Valley