One of the best traditions at this time of year is the harvest lunch, held at every chateau in Bordeaux throughout the harvest period.
The lunch is of course a necessity to fuel the harvesters who have usually been up since early in the morning picking this year's all important crop, but they are also a great way of mixing every level of workers together, from the chateau director to the part-time harvesters, and of just enjoying a social break in what is the busiest time of the year.
This year I have been to two harvest lunches, one at Chateau Pichon Baron in Pauillac, and the other at Chateau La Gatte in AOC Bordeaux Superieur (in St Andre de Cubzac, so just a few metres shy of the Cotes de Bourg/Blaye borders).
The first one of these is one of the most prestigious properties in Bordeaux, with 73 hectares in the Pauillac appellation, and owned by a large insurance company with a string of chateaux across the region and further afield in the Duoro and Tokaj. The second is a small estate owned by a French woman and her American husband, Hélène and Michael Affatato. Hélène has worked previously for Latour, and Michael for Chapoutier, so they know a lot about winemaking, but their current estate is just 13 hectares, and makes red, white and rosé wine.
The harvest lunches at both estates, however, weren't so different from each other (although I have to admit the 2001 Pichon was really a big plus point at one of them!!). The lunches are always very relaxed, with pickers and other staff all seated together around long tables, and the food is always very simple, and hearty (I had picked a few grapes at La Gatte, so could pretend I had earned it, but at Pichon I'd just had a very taxing walk around their beautiful new cellars and climbed up the tower in the vineyard). At Pichon we were served a rough country-style pate, hams and other cold meats, roast pork and potatoes, and followed by chocolate eclairs. These were all cooked, as they are every year, by one of the cellar workers who just happens to also be a very talented cook. 'Once a year, he escapes into the kitchen', as they said, and cooks for two shifts of around 40 people a time, for a month. All workers also get a harvest picnic to take home with them, as they may be too late, or tired, to cook for the family at night time.
At La Gatte we also got an excellent array of cold meats, followed by veal and potatoes, and finished off with two gorgeous tarts, one chocolate and one fruit, made by Michael's mother in law, and a very talented nine year old boy (wasn't sure of his relation!).
Everyone at both places were also in very good spirits because of the weather and expected quality of the vintage - just a great way to spend a few hours.