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Yesterday was the Fete de Vendanges in Saumur. You all probably know that the Saumur region is famous for many of its wines. What you possibly haven’t witnessed is the annual harvest of the grapes up by the chateau? Neither had we until yesterday! It was spectacular! Along with all the pomp & circumstance surrounding the harvest itself, there’s plenty of other stuff going on too. There’s a medieval village, jousting, archery, horsemanship, static displays of ancient crafts, music, song & dance. It’s very, very photogenic and especially so when the temperatures in the late 20’s on a late September day, the sun shines and the sky is blue!

The grapes looked fantastic, hanging from vines that were mostly still green, just a few beginning to don their autumn colours.

Autumn vines

Autumn vines

Up by the chateau there are the normal two grape varieties, red (cabernet franc) and white (sauvignon blanc). The vendange yesterday concentrated on the cabernet franc.

From the bowels of the chateau, the Confrérie des Joyeux Festivaliers emerged in cortège, followed by crowds of onlookers to wind their way over the narrow bridge above the moat, and into the vineyard.

Conférie des Joyeux Festivaliers

Conférie des Joyeux Festivaliers

At the ends of each line of vines, heavy with the succulent cabernet franc grapes, a bucket awaited being filled by members of the public. Large and small, young and old. Each had beought scissors, secateurs or a knife specifically for the purpose of gathering the fruit. Once the band had finished their marching tune, and the opening speech had been made, the crowd was invited to harvest the vines!

Empty for now....

Empty for now....

Saumur chateau & vines

Saumur chateau & vines

Harvesting the vines

Harvesting the vines

A helping hand!

A helping hand!

After the grapes are picked and placed in the smaller buckets, they’re then transferred into the larger wooden ones, ready to be seperated from their stalks. Here, a worker would use two pieces of wood, scraping the grapes from side to side over a large griddle, throwing the stalks to the ground, leaving just the fruit to pass through.

Seperating the fruit from the stalks.

Seperating the fruit from the stalks.

Young and old emptying their harvest.

Young and old emptying their harvest.

The chevaliers watch on, keeping a careful eye on the harvesting.

A watchful eye.

A watchful eye.

While the band plays tunes, walking around the vineyard, to the delight of onlookers as well as those involved in the harvest itself.

Music to harvest by!

Music to harvest by!

Once the grapes are all sorted from the stalks, it’s time for the cortége to make its way down to the press, situated in the dry moat of the chateau. The head of the Confrérie, tells us all so, waving his ‘sceptre’ of a vine branch.

'Sceptre' in hand, The Boss tells us it's time to press on...

'Sceptre' in hand, The Boss tells us it's time to press on...

So then, following the troupe of vendangers, we head for the moat, the wine press and the first juice…

En cortége.

En cortége.

Hand in hand they go!

Hand in hand they go!

Salut!

Salut!

At the bottom of the hill, crowds part for the princesse, for it is she who carries the first grapes for the press!

La Princesse!

La Princesse!

Crowds gather there to wait for the arrival of the grapes. The band plays, the crowd laughs, cheers, claps and dances along…

Clap your hands!

Clap your hands!

Even the equipment is 'pressed' into service as a drum!

Even the equipment is 'pressed' into service as a drum!

Finally, the harvest arrives and is loaded grape, by grape into the press.

Labour of love.

Labour of love.

Once all the grapes are loaded, or the press is full, then the packing is placed over the fruit, ready to wind down the weight, and squeeze until the very last drop…

The blocks are placed.

The blocks are placed.

Members of the public are invited to help turn the press, and there’s no shortage of willing volunteers to lend a hand!

All hands to the press!

All hands to the press!

The first juices flow from the press, and are handed out to the crowds in plastic cups. This is pure magic. It’s surprisingly cold, the juice – despite the heat of the afternoon! It’s so refreshing too. nature at its best, unspoilt, fresh and tasty!

It's good for your soul, as well as your health!

It's good for your soul, as well as your health!

Nectar, pure nectar!

Nectar, pure nectar!

After the ceremony of the harvest, the pressing and then the tasting, it’s time for a trip around the moat to see what else is going on. There was a medieval encampment set up, with lots to see. Jousting, games, songs and dancing, and later the ceremony to crown the princesse. We couldn’t stay though, as we’d promised friends we’d see them in a local village for the vide grenier there in the afternoon. But, we meandered for a while among the crowds, enjoying the atmosphere on a lovely sunny day. The smell of woodsmoke from the fires lit around the place remind us that it really is autumn, despite what the temperature gauge might say!

Here’s a selection of images from the day. Hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual harvest. It happens at the close of September each year, so for those of you lucky enough to be able to escape at this time of year, why not include it in your itinerary for next years France trip?

Chevaliers, au chateau!

Chevaliers, au chateau!

Just enjoying the day.

Just enjoying the day.

Fantastic horsemanship!

Fantastic horsemanship!

Ambulance - medieval style!

Ambulance - medieval style!

Music all around....

Music all around....

No Monty Python jokes, please...

No Monty Python jokes, please...

A hard day's hunting...

A hard day's hunting...

...but at least there's something to show for it!

...but at least there's something to show for it!

A floral welcome!

A floral welcome!

And finally. One of my favourite views of our local town. Hope you like it.

Saumur. Le chateau, et La Loire.

Saumur. Le chateau, et La Loire.

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Each year, as I’ve possibly mentioned before, Saumur parades its wines before an adoring public. Many vignerons gather together in the town for the first weekend of September to celebrate their ‘metier’, their craft. There’s a whole host of associated trades that take stands there too making for a very enjoyable afternoon in the town.When you need a break from the rigours of sampling some delightful wines, you can take a tour of this beautiful chateau town ‘en calèche’, a horse-drawn carriage, to discover the reasons why Saumur makes for such a popular holiday destination year on year.

So – to the wine fair.

What happens is this – you buy a commemorative glass, inscribed with the legend ‘Vins de Saumur’, and you hawk it around the 40-odd stands, tasting here & there. It’s fantastic! And after the initial €5 for your verre, it’s all free! Result! Now obviously, you’re being treated only to Saumur wines, and nothing else, so it’s all a bit biased, but it’s a great way to get to know the different appellations of the region. It’s also a great way to find those vignerons that are willing to offer you free tastings chez eux.Some of the vineyards are old. Very old. Often the places you’ll visit for a free tasting are stunning old family chateaux, nestled deep in the vines. Often you’ll taste far more wines than normal, as it simply isn’t possible to offer the full range of vintages at events like the Marché des Vins.

We wandered from stall to stall, meeting the vignerons, and having them explain their wines to us, we tasted quite a few and found more than a few that were worth a punt! Generally, the vignerons are very patient with their prospective clients and we noticed many that were attempting to communicate with non-french speaking tasters. English voices were all around us, giving the lie to the story that Brits were having ‘staycations’ this year. We’ve attended this event for the past few years, and I think that this year we heard far more English being spoken than previously! Go figure!

Some of the vignerons were a little ‘worse for wear’ after a long morning of opening bottles, and tasting both to see if the bottle had ‘corked’, and having a taste with clients! One in particular, on the Langlois Chateau stand managed to pour most of his Crémant de la Loire over my hand, rather than in the glass! Funny! But no offence taken, it’s a hazard of the job!

Our friend Gérald was there with his wife and adorable son, and doing very brisk business in the sunshine. We passed a few verres with them, chatting about life in general, business and of course, wines….

Incidentally, keep an eye out for an announcement in the not too distant future for an exciting new venture from Gérald, Sarah-Jane and Le Chant d’Oiseau (our business, in case you weren’t aware)! Shhh…….

The town was bustling with happy people, listening to the crooner on the small stage singing Sinatra (very well, too), chatting, laughing, drinking, eating. There was the usual fouée stall doing a roaring trade, and normally we’d have sampled a couple ourselves, (to soak up the wine, you understand) but as this was a Sunday, (no rest for the wicked), we’d promised guests back home that we’d light our very own bread oven and cook fouée for them ourselves!

The Saumur Wine Fair is an excellent way to spend a very warm and sunny Sunday in the Loire Valley. Here’s a few shots to whet your appetite for next year!

Saumur Marché des Vins.

Saumur Marché des Vins.

Gérald doing a brisk trade!

Gérald doing a brisk trade!

Look into my eyes.....

Look into my eyes.....

Ingenious use of old vines!

Ingenious use of old vines!

There's always cheese...

There's always cheese...

...and a mobile four a pain for fouée!

...and a mobile four a pain for fouée!

All in all, with the restaurants along la Loire doing good business, the cafés bristling with people enjoying the wine & the weather, Saumur is THE place to be on the first Sunday of September! So, make a date for next year, and we’ll see you there!

Until the next time, hic, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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