The first week and a half of harvest has blown by in a blur of sunrises, sweat, and sleep.
The schedule is intense, and repeated every day. I fought it for the first six days: dragging myself out of bed tired and grumpy, for that to only give way to the discomforts of working under the late morning sun with my back at the perfect bend for long-term pain. Wasp stings. Broken glass in my hand. Slicing the tips of my fingers with the clippers. New bug bites, bruises, scratches, every day. There's a lot up against a first time farmer.
It's only been in these last four days that I've slowly given myself over to the pace of harvest. TV, reading, working on this neglected blog, and other freelance work have been erased from my mind. They've been replaced with new priorities like my internal timer for reapplying sunscreen, perfecting the work pace for passing crates full of grapes through a human chain into the truck (and then back out, into the cellar), and staying awake just long enough after my post-lunch shower to braid my hair for the next day before I collapse into a well-deserved siesta.
Waking up before the sun is getting easier. It's been in the mornings when my heart hurts the most--sleep deprived, resentful, missing Mika and Kuiper. But I've adjusted now. I wake up 15 minutes before my alarm. I take coffee at the table with the rest of the team. I don't drag my feet getting out of the car to unload when we first arrive to the field of the day. I am ready for work. I'd even dare to say that I'm happy to do it.
Today, the field we worked was on the steepest slope yet. We picked uphill all morning. The wind was low, and even though there was cloud cover, the air was thick and stagnant. But with this was the most fantastic view; a 360 panorama of the Pyrénées-Orientales. Visibility extended for miles...or kilometers. Scattered across the vines, our team of ten disappeared and reappeared as we ducked under the vines, making sure every last bunch was picked--looking like the gofers in Whack-A-Mole. We each take a "rank," in Aline's translation, and move steadily along with our buckets and clippers. Every 15 paces is a large grey and red crate (their split colors actually serve a purpose) which we empty our full buckets into as we go. When a set of ranks are finished, we all pick up the cases and stack them at the base of the field, setting them so the colors checkerboard, which keeps the crates from sinking into the grapes in the case below it. The grapes shouldn't be bruised, crushed, or left in the sun.
We fill the work van with cases two or three times a morning. A smaller team brings them back to the cellar either to be stored for later that day, or, in the case of the Macabeo, it is stomped immediately, strained, and pumped into a giant barrel. The Syrah from yesterday was put directly into a massive wood barrel, with minimal stomping--only enough to make room for all of the grapes (the yields from that field were good this year).
We stop for breakfast in the fields between 9:30 and 10am. Empty crates are flipped over for chairs and a make-shift table. Baguettes from the bakery bundled in white paper take up most of the room. Jars of jam and tupperwares of cheese are shoved in the nooks and crannies left free from plastic cups full of wine, water, or coffee. I am made an example of every time I put Nutella and cheese in my baguette sandwich. The jokes of sending me back to America, ruining the food, eating behind a tree out of sight, never seem to get old. But I also haven't tired of eating Nutella with roquefort or chèvre. Perfect balance of sweet and savory, à mon avis.
The work isn't over when we return from the fields at high noon. Everything must be unloaded, stomped, stored, and washed. But as we power through the last interval of labor, Aline passes around cheap beer, and we work with only one hand. It's cool and arid in the cellar, and outside in the driveway rainbows form in the mist from the pressured hose as we wash everything down.
The cook arrived yesterday. Someone just to make lunch for us--feeding 12 people every day is no easy feat, and something Aline has no time for to do herself. The food probably deserves its own post: lunch today was incredible, and spread over three courses.
We've come full circle, back to siesta time. The revolution will start again tomorrow.