Ban des vendanges
Historically in Bordeaux, before the harvest could begin, there had to be the ‘Ban de Vendages’ or harvest proclamation. It lifted the harvest ban – giving vineyards permission to start picking their grapes. The tradition dates from the Middle Ages. It was to make sure grapes weren’t picked too early or too green, ensuring the quality of the wine.
Today, the governing bodies no longer control the picking date, but they do celebrate it!
The Jurade of Saint Emilion was founded 800 years ago to control the quality and promote the wines of Saint Emilion and the surrounding vineyards. On the third Sunday of every September, they still proclaim the harvest. The 130 Jurats or members, parade through the medieval city of Saint Emilion wearing their red robes. They climb to the top of the King’s Tower to declare the vintage open. In the evening, after a torchlight procession through the streets, the whole town joins the celebration for a ‘Son et Lumiere’ and fireworks.
On the left bank of Bordeaux, The Commanderie du Bontemps du Medoc, Graves and Sauternes also celebrates the new vintage with a big harvest festival party. Up to 800 wine makers and guests celebrate in style at a member vineyard.
This Commanderie is the co-founder of the Médoc Marathon, a key event in local harvest celebrations since 1984. Although the distance is an official marathon of 42.195 km, it’s affectionately known as the longest marathon in the world. The route runs through the vineyards and past many iconic properties. The wineries offer runners a glass of wine as they pass by ! Hence the reputation for being such a long marathon!
It’s a lot of fun, with music and food on offer at the different wineries and with most of the 8500 runners dressing up. There’s a different theme every year, this year, on the 10th of September, the theme will be ‘cinema’. Prepare to see stars, and not just the wines
Cultural and agricultural
Les Vendanges de Malagar, or the Malagar harvest is an annual harvest event held at the Domaine de Malagar, the family property of local literary giant, François Mauriac. The two day conference sees writers, journalists and other intellectuals debate a theme round wine, this year is ‘Nature’. The event is opened to the public and sponsored by The Académie du vin de Bordeaux, who organise a fabulous dinner at Château Yquem for the lucky participants.
Join the workers
Anyone who has participated in a harvest will tell you it can be back breaking work. Thus, recruiting pickers isn’t always easy. Every property has its own solution to encourage teams to join them for the harvest. Chateaux that offer good food always have a competitive advantage. Plus, the quality of the Gerbaude or the harvest celebration when all the hard work is done, really helps. Some of these parties are legendary.
Coming to Bordeaux during harvest is fun, and hectic. Some chateaux are too busy to receive visitors, but many do. It’s fascinating to see the grapes coming in and the different selection tables and techniques used from one property to the next.
Some vineyards open up the harvest experience to visitors. These are fun and noisy affairs, not glamourous chateaux lunches, but the food is delicious and nourishing and of course, there’s wines to taste.
Château Monconseil Gazin in Blaye, welcomes visitors in the vines and the cellar. After coffee and croissants (of course) guests join the picking team, then taste the bourru (new wine) and lunch with the team. Then, they spend the afternoon on the selection table and in the cellar learning wine making techniques.
If you want to get into the atmosphere without the hard work, stay in one of the many vineyards that offer rooms. You can wake up to the sound of the pickers arriving and drink in the atmosphere from the glass, without getting your hands dirty.
by Wendy Narby, Insider tasting
© Jean Bernard NADEAU