When you think about wine tours of France, you probably imagine visiting the famous regions like Bordeaux, Alsace and Champagne during the hot summer months to sample the fine wines and champagnes. But those who are prepared to wait a little longer will find themselves rewarded by a very different experience. |
Autumn wine tours give visitors the chance to see the vineyards of France during the busy harvesting season. From the middle of August right through until the end of October, many of France’s vineyards are bustling with the activity of harvesting their precious grapes, giving visitors at this time a unique insight into French viniculture and the beginning of the vinification process.
Harvesting the Grapes
In France la vendange or ‘grape harvest’ is an important time of year which, because grapes ripen at different rates depending on the sunshine, rainfall, terroir,etc., can stretch from the end of summer to the middle of autumn.
Many large producers have now mechanised much of their grape harvesting, but the smaller and more high-end producers still rely on the traditional method of hand-picking the grapes, which has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
The work is so intense and has to be carried out quickly as soon as the grapes are considered ripe. Many temporary workers are brought in during this time to ensure that all the grapes are picked at the perfect moment.
Harvest Festivals Across France
Because of the high pressure around harvesting the grapes at the optimum time, the end of the harvest is traditionally a time of great celebration in France with many regions and villages welcoming the final harvest with a festival. Expect street parties, pétanque competitions, food stalls, and, of course, plenty of wine.
As wine is produced across most of the regions in France, autumn is a great time for celebration in the country and that makes it a great time to join in the fun.
One of the most famous celebrations is held in the medieval village of Saint-Emilion. In a tradition dating back to 1199, the local vineyards open their doors to the public for two days after the harvest so people can come and see what they do and to taste their product as part of the Jurade de Saint-Emilion festival.
Those taking wine tours through the Beaujolais region will find similar festivities taking place to celebrate the year’s most recent Beaujolais Nouveau.
Of course, taking part in the annual harvest celebrations isn’t the only reason why autumn is a great time for wine tours in France. Visit towards the end of the year, and you’ll discover a much quieter, more ‘local’ experience because the summer holiday crowds will have gone.
Most people in France have the month of August off, and many travel to the famous vineyard regions during this time, so there is a lot of French tourism at this time of year. Add to that the school holidays for most of Europe, and you may find yourself travelling around the vineyards of France in quite a crowd.
Come autumn, however, many of the tourists have gone home, and the regions have settled back down to the business of viniculture rather than tourism. So the experience you’ll have of the regions will be that bit more authentic during the cooler autumn months.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays. Offering holidays to France and other great destinations, itineraries include wine tours and other cultural and themed activities. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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