Grape harvesting in Burgundy: account of a unique experience

Being a part of a grape harvest is an experience like no other, and young Quebecois Josianne would certainly be the last to tell you otherwise: “You just have to go, it’s great…and the landscape is so beautiful!”, she assures other adventure-seekers.

A unique experience

After finishing her Quebec Diploma of Collegial Studies, Josianne decided to follow in her sister’s footsteps by joining the grape harvests in Europe. France, which she was already familiar with, seemed to be an ideal destination with its 17 vineyards and many wineries.

Josianne took up residence for the fall at the Domaine Labry in the heart of Burgundy in the Beaune region.

Josianne fondly remembers being welcomed at the train station and the comraderie that existed between the close-knit group of grape pickers, who were French for the most part.

Among Josianne’s favorite memories of her experience were the hospitality of the owners and lively mealtime discussions. Not to mention the gourmet perks, as Burgundy is rich in local products: sausages and cheeses galore, all washed down with wine…from Burgundy of course!

Grape-picking: a nature lover’s activity

That’s not to say however, that grape-picking is all fun and games: make no mistake that it is certainly physical labor, though Josianne maintains it is “an easily mastered technique.” The job may be arduous at times but relaxing moments with the rest of the group certainly make up for the day’s hard work.

Josianne also explains that the stunning Burgundy landscape provides constant moral support and the autumn sun highlights the colours of the vines, grapes and scenery. And when the days grow long, beautiful sunsets give heart to the work being done.

And let’s not forget the scents of the harvest, from the morning dew on the ground to the sun heating the leaves and the regenerative rain on the vines.

The grape-pickers become part of the soul and history of a vineyard, and along with the expertise of the winemaker and the weather, have a direct effect on the quality of a bottle.

Some tips for Canadians

  • Canadian citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 can take advantage of a youth exchange agreement between the governments of France and Canada to work in France for up to one year on one of three types of visas: more information is available from the French embassy in Canada (External link) .
  • Quebec residents can participate directly in the harvests through a program offered by the France-Québec Association (External link) .
  • Make sure to pack a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and an article of waterproof clothing, even though all equipment is provided by the employer.
  • Arrive with an open mind, ready to meet plenty of new people!

Working conditions: what you should know

  • To participate you must be over the age of 18 and be comfortable with physical labor.
  • Employment
    The work week is 35-39 hours and the employer may shorten the length of employment depending on the volume of the harvest.
  • Salary:
    8 euros per hour (around $11) is standard, which yields around 60 euros ($85) per day. Lodging and food are usually provided.
  • Harvest dates:
    End of August and September, possibly until the end of October. The length of work to be done depends on the weather.
  • In which regions?
    The harvests begin in the sunniest regions of France in the following order:

**End of August: Corsica, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence **Early September: Beaujolais, southern Rhône Valley **Mid-September: northern Rhône Valley, Bordelais, Burgundy, Bugey and Savoie, Jura, Centre, Sud-Ouest, Loire Valley **End of September: Alsace, Champagne Early October: Charentes, Cognac, Lorraine

You don’t have to work to be a part of the harvests, you can also visit one of France’s many grape harvest festivals!

During the harvest season, wine culture reigns supreme! Here are some of the biggest wine festivals in France:

  • Saint-Émilion grape harvest kick-off in Bordelais (Aquitaine), September 15, 2013
  • Nîmes Harvest feria (bullfighting event) in Gard (Languedoc-Roussillon), September 15-21, 2013
  • Château de Saumur grape harvest festival (Loire Valley), September 29, 2013
  • Cassis grape harvest (Les vendanges étoilées) festival in Provence, September 22, 28-30, 2013
  • Alsace (External link) grape harvest festival in Barr (Alsace), October 4-6, 2013
  • Montmartre (External link) grape harvest festival in Paris, October 9-13, 2013
  • (External link) Champagne (External link) flavour festival in Marne (Champagne-Ardenne), October 13-19, 2013
  • Gard grape harvest history festival in Chusclan (Languedoc-Roussillon), October 12-13, 2013
  • Joigny grape harvest festival in Burgundy, October 13, 2013