Everything goes up several gears once picking gets under way and with over 100,000 extra people arriving in the area to help pick, you can understand why. It’s a particularly busy time for local businesses.
Take Christophe Ponsard – our local traiteur or caterer here in the Grand Cru village of Verzy. He’s working flat out to make, deliver and collect hundreds of ready-prepared meals for the big champagne houses which have teams of many tens of vendangeurs. He’ll be out most nights at least until midnight.
It’s much the same at the boulangerie, but at the opposite end of the day. They’re open 12 hours per day, ( 7 a.m to 7 p.m.) seven days a week, whilst the harvest is on and, of course, they have to get up well before 7 a.m. to bake the bread.
With all this activity there’s more traffic on the roads and whenever a car passes you the tyres make a sort of ripping sound as the rubber separates from the sticky layer of grape juice that coats all the road surfaces. It comes from the tractors carrying the boxes of grapes back to the press houses. The grapes start to be crushed under their own weight and the juice seeps out of the boxes leaving a trail of stickiness behind all the passing tractors.
Of lot of juice is transported around the region by tanker as well. At the head of this page you can see a picture of a Lanson tanker - bet you’ve never seen a champagne tanker before! Not a bad idea though, is it?
Actually it’s not champagne yet. There’s only juice inside, but it’s a common practice to get your grapes pressed by someone near your vineyard who has spare press capacity and then just send a tanker to pick up the juice, bring it back to your vat house where you can start the fermentation.
Then there’s the mass of pressed grapes that is left over. These remains are called Les Aignes and it all has to be taken off to the distillery in the town of Ay where it is processed to produce alcohol, animal feed, fuel pellets and more. Nothing is wasted – even the pips are used to extract essential oils for the cosmetic industry.
This does mean however that there is a veritable mountain of grape skins piled up at the distillery waiting to be used and wow! What an aroma! It casts a heady, vaguely alcoholic haze over the entire town.
It’s a bit like living close to a brewery. The smell is pungent to say the least, but after a while you get used to it and it’s not unpleasant at all. I wish I could bring it to you in a blog post, but alas no. You’ll have to come and see and smell for yourself.
In the meantime do the next best thing. Visit my web site again soon to catch the next exciting episode of Soap (oops, that’s giving my age away. If you remember that TV series you’ll know what I mean. Each episode ended with that phrase. If you’re too young, please just humour me).
Needless to say I meant 'Come back soon for the next Harvest Bulletin from Champagne'.