Toward the end of August, quiet vineyards in France come alive with activity, as hundreds of workers flock to nearby villages, ready to participate in the annual grape harvest (“la vendange”). If “work hard, play hard” is your life’s motto, this is your dream job. An Internet search for “seasonal work in France” brings up sites where vineyard owners advertise harvest jobs. You usually don’t need any previous experience; you just need a good work ethic, a positive attitude, and a desire for adventure. Read on to learn what it’s like to be a grape harvester!
The first item you’ll be given to use during the harvest is a pair of vine cutters (“secateurs”). If you get a dull pair, hand them in at the end of the day and hope to get better ones the following morning. If you get a sharp pair, guard them with your life. Eat with them, sleep with them, and whisper sweet nothings to them, because a good pair of secateurs will make your job a great deal easier. The second item is a pair of thick garden gloves. Never forget your gloves. Common sense tells you to cut the grapes and not your fingers, but when you’re working at a quick pace, slip-ups happen. You may love your extra-sharp secateurs, but they have no qualms about cutting your fingers.
The work itself is straightforward. Grab a bunch of grapes, use your secateurs to cut through the vine, and drop the grapes into your basket (“panier”). When your basket is full, wave your arm in the air and shout “panier!” Someone will come to trade your filled basket for an empty one. Repeat the above steps many, many times. To prevent monotony, strike up a conversation with a nearby worker. If you don’t speak French very well, this is the perfect opportunity to practice. If you don’t speak French at all but can carry a tune, sing-alongs are fun and will help keep boredom at bay.
When work’s finished for the day, it’s time to unwind with a nice dinner followed by drinking, dancing, singing, and playing games. Alcohol is readily available during the vendange, and it’s nice to enjoy a few glasses of wine, but keep in mind that the next day’s work will be more difficult with a hangover. If you’re not a fan of drinking, you can keep yourself entertained by starting a card game or you can bear witness to drunken people’s follies and inwardly gloat that you’re going to feel nice and refreshed in the morning while they feel sick and tired.
The harvest isn’t easy. You work rain or shine. Your back aches and you’re covered head to toe in sticky grape juice, but the good far outweighs the bad. You find strength and determination you didn’t know you possess. You form bonds and friendships that last forever. The vendange is like an exclusive club, and you’re now a lifetime member.