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Blog: Would you pay to harvest wine grapes?

Do you have romantic visions of crushing grapes with your bare feet, or is pulling the cork on a good bottle enough of an effort? If you do want to get hands-on in the wine harvest, would you pay for the experience?

Casual pickers get their instructions at Domaine Laroche in Chablis ahead of the 2013 harvest, before being treated to lunch. Image Credit: Tina Gellie, Decanter Associate Editor

It was reported this week that British pop singer Sting is offering tourists the chance to help pick wine grapes at his Il Palagio estate in Tuscany as part of a package that costs €262 per day.

More than any other type of farming, wine still has a lure that seemingly defies the spectre of hard work; even if the sepia-tinged photos of moustachioed foot-stompers bear little resemblance to the age of gadget wizardry and infra-red sorting.

It’s hard to imagine city dwellers who have become detached from the rhythms of agriculture being persuaded to turn up for the winter wheat harvest, for instance.

And yet, while opportunities to get involved on a casual basis do exist, allowing passing tourists and wine lovers to harvest wine grapes can be fraught with difficulties for producers themselves.

Not only are many reticent about the idea of letting amateurs loose with their year’s livelihood, bureaucracy and insurance can also pose a problem.

In France, vineyard workers must be officially declared to the French authorities.

‘It could be organised for fun, for example picking a few grapes before a “harvest-lunch” in the vineyard, but not as a job,’ said Christophe Chateau of Bordeaux‘s regional wine body, the CIVB.

In Burgundy, ‘the size of the parcels seems to be a point as well’, said Cecile Mathiaud of local wine council BIVB. ‘It is tricky to organise the harvests in so many different places and it is not easy to schedule in advance where and when you’ll do the picking.’

Precision is the mantra of many winemakers in the modern era and this perhaps increasingly precludes the use of amateur pickers. It is common for wineries to request experienced pickers.

Many of the best wine estates try to ensure a regular team of workers who return year-after-year. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti recruits a local chef to cook for its pickers.

Written by Chris Mercer

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