We decided to try and find work grape picking in France for two reasons. Firstly, it was high season for grape picking in France at precisely the time we were due to be travelling back through the country. Secondly, it sounded like a great opportunity. Grape picking in France conjures up thoughts of picturesque views and idyllic surroundings.
On our first day Joe and I awoke both excited and apprehensive. We wondered what our accommodation would be like, would the food be edible? Were the farmers going to be friendly and would we easily make friends with the other travelers?
Any initial worries soon went away when we couldn’t fnd the farm. We spent almost 2 hours driving back and forth around a vey small but very picturesque area, knowing the farm had to be there somewhere.
Eventually we spotted a group of ‘out of place’ looking young people marching down the road we were driving on and on the off chance we asked if they had come here to partake in work grape picking in France.
Yes! Result. They were a large group of Estonians. One of which spoke excellent English and was kind enough to show us the ropes in terms of where to sleep, eat and wash our clothes.
The accomodation was very compact with 18 of us, girls and boys sharing one small dorm. The bunkbeds waiting with fresh bedding folded neatly on top. We chose our beds, hastily grabbed some things from the van and settled in.
We were staying in an outhouse of a beautiful ageing farm house built in the local yellow golden brick. We were surrounded by beautiful postcard picturesque landscapes, grapevines stretching as far as the eye could see, rolling hills and small villages, with churches and chateaus in the distance.
The garden and home was kept by the mother of the family , Lordette who was most welcoming despite the limited English she spoke.
We met the family’s son, John Baptiste. A very smiley young man who showed us where we could park our camper.
Slowly other people arrived and we began to get a picture of what our time would be like whilst grape picking in France.
Everyone was very friendly and chatty. Most of the Estonians however kept themselves to themselves except one very extrovert character called Ott who we all came to love.
The next 8 days were full of strenuous work, non stop drinking ..starting at 9am and round the clock laughter.
We were lucky to share the experience with a great group of people with whom we shared all of our ups and downs as the week went on.
We had a real mix with Belgians, Dutch, German, Estonian, and two other English guys.
We expected to meet hardened travellers with huge backpacks, long beards and heavy tans but in fact most of the people we met had come straight from home, unlike us who has been traveling for almost 5 months now.
Also most people chose to go grape picking in France purely for the experience as the wages could hardly cover their travelling costs. This is something to consider. Joe and I however happened to be passing through the region on our way to east to Germany so it was an excellent experience as well as earning a good amount of cash between us by the time we left.
We worked long hours of repetitve work, all of us complaining of back pain and aching legs yet every evening all was forgiven after a hot shower and a home cooked meal which we ate with the family in the main house. The food was good and there was always plenty of it. It became clear that grape picking in France is not as easy and peaceful as it sounds but it was not horrible either.
We spent every evening enjoying the farm’s wine and chatting, playing cards and laughing until we were falling asleep.
At times it felt rather like a school trip, a hint of nostalgia crept in as the days went on and we became more silly and more drunk! Messing with people in their sleep and other childish activities after heavy drinking ensured lots of giggles.
Amazingly none of us ever suffered a hangover!! I still cant understand how this is possible taking into account how much wine we were drinking and the questionable quality of the wine from the local supermarket.
We watched the sunrise eveymorning while waiting to head to work, sleepy chatting and stretches and yawning ensued.
On one occason a couple of others and my self were late after lunch and received a rather shocking telling off by the very intimidating character Bruno. The father and head of the operation.
During work he was mostly very serious with a stern look on his face, he demands respect with his bellowing voice. I would go as far as to say I was frightened of him during the day… Yet in the evening, he became a very gentle and approachable character with a permanant smile plastered on his face and a very relaxed demeanor, becoming more like Santa Clause than the Napoleonic character we saw earlier in the day. Bruno obviously expects a high standard of work from anyone who chooses work grape picking in France with him but, after hearing about the tight schedule and tough industry they work in, this is completely understandable.
I couldn’t help but admire his ability to switch so dramatically between work and relax mode. It was infectious and an interesting glimpse into the paradox of farming life in France.
The family and farmers work extremely hard all day but the know how to truly relax in the evening. Great food, great wine and great conversation.
It was this contrast that kept us going.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the farm, the work was physically a lot more difficult than we could have imagined yet so was the fun.
Both Joe and I would absolutely recommend grape picking in France to anyone who wants to experience local culture, admire the landscapes, socialise with other nationalities and enjoy sampling the excellent wine of France.
I will say this, 30 minutes after leaving our jobs grape picking in France both Joe and I fell asleep for almost 3 hours. A hint of a hangover crept in and I felt as though I needed to sleep for the next week!
It took a few days to get over the hard work, late nights and early starts but we would certainly do it again!
The book Work Your Way Around the World
is a great choice for anybody hoping to find work grape picking in France or similar whilst travelling on their gap year.