As a child, I remember when the conversation would change from the pleasures of summer and begin to focus on the ripeness of the grapes and the upcoming vendages (grape harvest). It wasn’t a conversation that just occurred in our home but wherever grapes were grown. Our family had a modest vineyard on our property in the south of France.
During the burning heat of the midday sun, I would skip through the vineyards probing the clusters of grapes and pop one and then another into my mouth. The taste was so sweet I was enchanted.
It was a magical time when the workers appeared for la récolte (to pick the grapes). I’d watch them fill their baskets and walk through the aisles to empty their loads into the waiting vats. The way they greeted me with big smiles and a “Bonjour, mademoiselle” made me feel welcomed and happy to be part of the excitement.
At the base of the fields was a very large wooden container where the grapes were amassed and squeezed. I remember seeing people stomping on the grapes as they did in that famous episode of I Love Lucy. I have to be honest here: my memory may be tainted by having seen the show—it is hard to know. As far as I am concerned, it is a memory that I cherish and a time that I know was unique.
Our vineyards were small, all white grapes: muscat that produced a vintage of white wine that was so special it was revered by all who tasted it. It wasn’t a sweet wine, but a mild, mellow white that filled your mouth with a full body that was startlingly good.
It was known as le vin blanc de La Madrague, (la Madrague is the property name). It wasn’t sold but instead was kept in la cave for our personal use. When a bottle was opened, or when my grandfather would bring bottles to friends, I’d watch the delight come over everyone’s faces. All who tasted it wanted more.
Years after my grandparents died, the wine was no longer made on the property, but instead the grapes were brought to the local wine co-operative where they were mixed with grapes from other small vineyards and made into wine. It was the weight of the grapes, la récolte (the harvest), you’d deliver that would determine the quantity of bottles you’d get back. The result was a perfectly acceptable table wine but nothing like our memories of the original.
The last bottle of vin blanc de la Madrague showed up unexpectedly years after our last bottle had been opened and consumed. An old family friend welcomed our visit by announcing that he had been saving one bottle in his cabanon, (hunting lodge). He had been saving it, to give to us, knowing there were no more. What an incredible gift, but as is true with wine, especially white wine, there is no guarantee it would still be good.
Knowing that, my family opened the bottle with excitement and trepidation. After looking at each other with hopeful expectation, we took the first sip. The flavor, mild and mellow, wasn’t there. Instead it was harsh and acidic. Age had not been good to this bottle and we couldn’t help but be saddened, but the excitement of the possibility and the thoughtfulness behind the gesture was superb.
This is a childhood memory that over the years has probably been romanticized. It doesn’t take into account that picking grapes is very hard work. The people who do it have to be skilled and fast and that is not easy. I am grateful for the kindness they showed me and my family and the incredible wine they helped create.
A glass of red wine can be turned into a wonderful dessert by simply adding slices of peach, a bit of sugar and mixing them with the wine. It’s the concentration of the ripe peach, the full-bodied red wine, and the sugar that creates a mélange that is pure indulgence and totally wonderful.
PÊCHES AU VIN ROUGE
Serve: 1 peach medium per person
Prep time: 5 minutes per glass Total time: 5 minutes
1 very ripe peach
½ glass full-bodied red wine
½ tablespoon sugar
Peel the peach, cut into bite-size pieces.
Place the cut up peach into your wine glass.
Add ½ tablespoon of sugar.
Pour half a glass of wine over the mixture.
Stir to combine.
Serve with a spoon.
If the peaches are out of season, you can use frozen peaches.
Place ¾ cup, per person, of the thawed peaches in a bowl and sprinkle sugar over them.
Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes to marinate
Divide the peaches into your wine glasses and cover with the red wine.
Stir and enjoy the delicacy.
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