• Sarah Heath

Lavender and Wine

I’m going to sleep well tonight! Not through anaesthetising myself with wine but because I have been cutting back the lavender plants! Inhaling that gorgeous smell over several hours today made my gardening chores all the more relaxing.

I am bringing up the subject of lavender trimming because it coincides with the grape harvest, which is in full flurry here in Gaillac (south-west of France). My neighbour explained to me that once the grapes are being picked, it’s also time to cut back the lavender.

The butterflies, bees and hummingbird moths have already realised the lavender is past its best and have disappeared. During the summer, the purple flowers attract these flying insects in their hundreds. But now they have fallen quiet.

But a busyness takes hold elsewhere: in the surrounding vineyards. Suddenly, there are mini-tractors everywhere, ferrying trailers stacked high with containers full of grapes. There are randomly parked cars lining the roads alongside rows of vines as pickers get to work in this short picking season. And trucks full of pomace (the leftover skins, stems and seeds once the grapes have been pressed) dribble remnants of grape juice along the road as they pass by. Soon it will be the turn of the bottling trucks rattling from vineyard to vineyard.

But there is a sense of excitement in the air. A new vintage is in the offing. Will it be a good one? There can never be any certainty. Locals who know more than I do have suggested that the quality will be up but the quantity down, mostly because of this year’s weather conditions.

This summer has been a strange one meteorologically speaking. The heat came late but when it came, it was sometimes vicious in its intensity. We had a reading of 42° on the thermometer on more than one occasion and there are still drought conditions here, as in many parts of France.

The grapes, heavy on the vines, remind me (weirdly?) of cows that need milking. A kind of groaning underbelly, desperate to be relieved of its weight. They know it’s time. The tips of their leaves are already curling and turning red as summer sneaks into autumn.

The race is on to pick the fruit at the perfect moment, when it will make the best wine. I spent a day grape-picking last season. A local friend makes fantastic wine and is a fan of hand- over machine-picking. It was such a back-to-nature day – so real, so organic and unrushed. You can listen to this grape-picking experience on my podcast here: https://www.theveryunfrenchwives.eu/podcast

Gaillac pre-dates Bordeaux for wine making by 1,000 years and we are blissfully surrounded by vineyards around where we live. I see them from our window, drive past two before hitting the main road a mile away, and love that I can take visiting friends to a wine-tasting on foot, avoiding drink-driving issues.

It also makes me wonder about the comings-and-goings which would have been going on at my house many years ago. It was formerly owned by a winemaker and we still have a wine press and five massive (but sadly empty) wine vats in one of our barns. There is also a huge underground storage tank (which I’ve been tempted to hide in to escape from the children on several occasions).

My imagination is forever drifting off to ‘what life would have been like 100 years ago”. I have no real idea but in my head it is full of horses, long sunny days and men with moustaches. Long lunches under the shade of a tree, conversations dominated by grape colour and farm kit and a mind free from pesticide usage and social media-savvy world leaders.

Heaven! I’m sure that wasn’t the reality but I have just cleared out that barn and discovered harnesses for working horses from way back when. In theory we are all set up to make our own wine – except for the obvious lack of vines! They were all dug up and the land turned over to wheat and sunflowers a long time ago.

In a few weeks time, the primeur will be available to drink. It is made expressly to drink within a short time after the grape harvest. It isn’t the greatest quality (think Beaujolais Nouveau) but the winemakers enjoy the challenge of turning a wine out early and it makes for some great community parties!

While I’m sad to see the lavender go, I’m excited for Gaillac winemakers and their 2019 vintage. The circle of life continues….


HEXAGON SPACE in Collaboration with The Very UnFrench Wives

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