Life at Casa Tyr

Vendimia 2006

Article text
Juan Pechero's turn with the mosto
Vendimia 2006 is OVER!!!!

We just finished helping our friend Manuel pick his grapes for his wine (vendimia). It has been a long, long week - picking went on for 6 days, as there were fewer pickers available this year, and the grape harvest was also much bigger than last year. The pressing, as usual, lasted longer than picking, so Kenton had an extra 2 days of work, with a very bad back to boot!

As usual, Kenton helped press the grapes, and I picked. There were a few extra volunteers for the first few days, which helped.

So followed 6 days of picking grapes in the hot sun (it's been around 30 degrees centrigrade all week). Up and down the terraces, tripping over vines, carrying baskets of grapes, and avoiding the wasps! And 8 days of pressing the grapes - stomping them with your feet first, then milling them to crush them further, then 2 presses to squeeze out all the juice. Not to mention muscling the barrels around in a cramped bodega!

Not that it was all hard work. Every morning we stopped for breakfast (which Manuel provides) around 10. Bread, tomatoes, cheese, ham and salchichon come out of the magic bag, and we eat our fill. Some have Manuel's wine ("mosto") with breakfast, but I usually stick with water - 10 am is a bit early for wine for me!

At 2, Manuel shows up to cook the lunch. The 'campo' (i.e. country) recipes are pretty standard - sopa (thick soup) one day, cazuela the next, patata frita (fried potatoes) with pork ribs the next, 'arroz' (which is paella with meat in it - in Spain, real paella only has fish) the next. All cooked outdoors over an open fire, and eaten under a shady pine or olive tree - you can almost forget your aching back! Once again, the mosto comes out, and all except me partake. Not that I'm so virtuous, it's just too hard to work in the heat if I drink much wine!

After lunch, back to work. This is the hottest part of the day, and sweat runs down your back as you pick. There is no shade to be found on the grape terraces, so it's all done in the full sun. What fun - now why exactly did we volunteer!? By the last few days, I was the only non-Spanish person (and the only female) picking grapes. The guys take good care of me, and always make sure they carry the full crates to the pick up point for me. They accept me really well, once they get over the shock of seeing a woman working outdoors, and we have a few jokes back and forth as the day wears on.

I've said before that none of the young people want to work on the land anymore - a tale familiar to anyone in the US or UK, as the same thing happened there years ago. There is not much money to be earned on the land, and it is just plain hard work. This was well illustrated during vendimia - all the guys except Kenton and me were in their 60s, and one man was 75. Quite shocking to me that they still are willing to pick grapes all day long, for only 50 Euros (approx $65) a day.

By the 3rd day most backs were aching badly. Juan Pechero ("Juan the pear-eater", so called because he comes from the next village, and 'they are all called pear eaters there'. Figure that one out!) had a sore back from falling off a terrace edge the day before, and thought he might have to go home. Nurse Annie to the rescue - as always, I carry Nurofen and a first aid kit to vendimia, so he was soon feeling better. Plasters (i.e. bandaids) were also doled out to soothe cut fingers.

A day after the picking finished, I drove to town to buy groceries (all normal chores are suspended during vendimia!). I saw Ildefonso and Juan Pechero in town, and we all agreed that we felt better now that it was all over! Not to mention hardly recognising each other in clean clothes!

Roll on next year...

Cast of regular characters: Ana (my Spanish name), Kenton, Francisco ("Paco"), Juan Pechero, and, of course, Manuel!

Extras: Andy, Lynn, Terry ("the English"), Francisco ("Curro", the 75 year old big brother to Manuel), Manolo (son of Manuel), Paco (son of Manuel), Jose Mari (son of Manuel), Raphael (first cousin to Juan Pechero), Ildefonso (brother-in-law to Manuel), Raphael (brother to Ildefonso). And yes, the duplicate names DOES get confusing!

Injuries this year: 1 broken mill (fixed by Kenton), 1 broken pump (Manuel used ours instead), 2 fingers cut quite badly with knife, 1 man who fell over the terrace edge (shaken but unhurt), 1 fever, 2 bad stomachs, 1 heat exhaustion and everyone with an aching back!