For many visitors to France, a major draw is the country’s centuries-old legacy of winemaking, particularly during the wine harvest months. Our wine appreciation cruises through such renowned regions as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and Alsace have long been popular with oenophiles keen on an inside look into the production behind some of the world’s finest vintages.
Though summer may be the peak cruising season for many travellers, the vineyards of France offer up delights and surprises all year round. As the days shorten and the vine leaves turn golden, vintners begin the age-old tradition of harvesting grapes and start the winemaking process anew. If you choose to cruise in the off-peak season in Autumn, you’ll be well-rewarded with a peek into one of France’s most time-honoured traditions.
La Vendange: The Harvest
In France, wine harvest time is known as la vendange. Because wine grapes ripen at different rates depending on species, la vendange spans about two months – typically from August to October. During this time, the French countryside is bustling with activity as vintners work to haul in the wine harvest. Though the process has been mechanised somewhat in some regions, most vineyards still harvest by hand, hirung temporary, seasonal help during this time to deal with the enormous volume!
But you needn’t get out in the fields and get your hands dirty to enjoy the wine harvest. In many French towns, the wine harvest season is cause for celebration and local festivals take place all across the country.
Festivals and Celebrations
Nearly every region of France produces wine, so there’s hardly a dull moment in the between August and October. One of the season’s most prestigious festivals takes place each September in Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux. Since 1199, this medieval town has held the Jurade de Saint-Emilion, during which local winemakers open their cellars to the public for two days. Similar festivals also take place in the Beaujolais region to welcome the latest Beaujolais Nouveau.
Whether they’re big regional affairs or local celebrations, French wine festivals are an annual rite of Autumn. You can expect to see grape-pressing, taste regional foods, hear local music, and – naturally – drink a wide variety of local wines.
And if you really need another reason to cruise in France during the Autumn, consider that the off-peak season is more relaxed than the busy summer months. With children back in the classroom, you can expect fewer crowds. What’s more, Autumn in France boasts bright, warm days and crisp nights, plus a dazzling display of yellow, orange, and red foliage across the countryside. Try Autumn cruising just once and you’ll never look back.