Every year in mid-March, about 50 of us gather at 8.30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to tailler les vignes (or prune the vines) with other members of ‘Le Fournado’ in the tiny hamlet of Gandoulès in the commune of Montpezat de Quercy.
Le Fournado is an Association that was originally set up a few years ago to preserve the patrimony of the countryside by baking bread every Sunday in the traditional way in a restored wood-fired oven in the hamlet. Now, as the membership has grown over the years, new activities take place during the year such as pruning the vines, harvesting the grapes and a soirée in November to sample the new wine and to munch freshly roasted chestnuts.
There are a few expert pruners who move quickly through the lines of vines with their secateurs flashing. The rest of us have to be content with untangling and cutting out the lengths of last year’s growth from the wire that supports the vines and stacking them in piles. These are then tied up with orange twine to make faggots of twigs that are used to start barbecues in the summer months.
Various other teams are set up to bang in new posts or replace wire or plant new vines where old ones have died so that the little vineyard hums with activity as the volunteers go about their various tasks.
Once finished, we all return to the barn in Gandoulès that has been converted into a ‘Salle de Fêtes’ for ‘aperos’ and a thoroughly good and wholesome 5-course lunch prepared by 10 or so volunteers while we were in the fields.
Thankfully, this year the weather was kind to us and the sun shone making for a happy communal event with much banter and laughter amongst the volunteers.
In the autumn, we return for the vendage (or picking of the grapes) which are then crushed for the juice with which to make wine. Alternatively, the moût (or juice from the first pressing) is mixed with eau de vie in a two to one mix and left for three months to make ratafia which is drunk as an aperitif and is quite delicious. Thereafter, the grape skins and general residue of pips, etc. are left to ferment and are distilled in February by a travelling distiller the following year and turned into marc (or raw brandy/eau de vie).
It is these communal events, that make living in rural SW France such a joy and it allows us to both integrate deep into local society and to meet new people from all walks of life.