Friday, November 15, 2013

La Vendimia

This year, I am living in a small village outside Ourense. It's been a bit of an adjustment, but I'm finding that I enjoy the tranquility of living in a village. I prefer waking up hearing a rooster crow in the distance, as opposed to waking up to my windows shaking from cars passing by in the busy road beneath my window, as often occurred last year.

Village living is distinct, but I'll get more into that in a separate post. For now I want to explore a very cute and ancient tradition of Ourense and the surrounding wine regions: La Vendimia. This is the practice of going out to harvest the grapes used to produce wine. It's usually a full day of family fun, and though it only consists of cutting grape bunches using sharp scissors, it gets to be tiring!

Eddie and Me
We woke up at the crack of dawn!!...just kidding, just kidding. This is Spain, only the bakers wake up early. We met up with the group of harvesters (the family of Eddie's boss) around 9:00, and ate a leisurely breakfast before getting to work. All twenty or so of us were sitting around a table, with the owners of the house urging/forcing everyone to eat the muffins and churros and to drink coffee and Cola Cao. Then the pick-up trucks (which, may I add, I had never previously seen pick up trucks in Spain. They're all about compact cars here.) were loaded up with materials and all of us packed into two trucks.  It's truly a family ordeal, with grandparents holding hands with their grandchildren, who are equipped with safety scissors, as they move along the rows of vines, cutting the grapes down. Then of course there are the middle-aged members of the family as well. Everyone has their own job according to their ability. It's very cute! We arrived to the first grape field and everyone got right to work. Me, being a noob but a competitive little sucker, ran to my own row of grape vines and started imitating what the others were doing. Some of the others were well over 60 years old yet somehow they worked faster than me! The task was simple:
  1. Cut the grapes off the vines 
  2. Fill the big black buckets with grapes
  3. Haul the buckets to the large blue sacks
  4. Call out helplessly for a stronger person to empty my bucket into the sack
  5. Repeat
My couture outfit for the day
We finished the first field in under ten minutes. I thought to myself, man, this is a breeze. What are these people talking about, saying we'll be cutting grapes for four hours??...I spoke too soon.

We made our way from grape field to grape field, my endurance crumbling progressively after each one. I will say the experience is particularly cute because it is a good way to get to know the others and makes you feel like part of the family. Of course, everyone was speaking Gallego so I constantly had my eyes squinted in an attempt to better understand, but you know what, by the end of the day I understood it better. Everyone shares anecdotes to pass the time as we're all snipping away, and it's a nice feeling. It's what kept my spirit from disappearing completely.

I'd never seen such pretty grapes!
Around 1 o' clock we finally made our way to the last field. I had been deceived 100% by the first field. It had been a grain of sand compared to the other beach sized fields that followed! (I exaggerate a little...). The last field surrounded the family's house... in every direction.... for about 500 m. Before we could muster the energy to finish this mammoth field it was necessary to refuel...Spanish style! We gathered inside the house to eat a hearty lunch consisting of boar and fish and empanada and garbanzos and salad and cheese and ham and wine everything my little Spanish mind could think of. The mother of the family had single-handedly created this feast for all of us, and for that I deeply admire her. Who would have known that a short stout woman could produce so much wonder in a kitchen!! Ugh it was so good and I ate as much as I could, and she kept urging everyone to eat more. I didn't even have room at the end of the meal for licor cafe nor dessert...that should tell you how filled to the brim I was.

Once we were refueled and buzzed enough to gather the courage to conquer the remaining field, we equipped ourselves with shears and headed back out. This. Field. Took. FOREVER. There were red grapes and white grapes and grapes hanging from fences and grapes hanging from an overhead trellis and grapes on the ground and grapes on trees. It was nuts. It took us a good two hours to complete it and we were absolutely pooped afterward! Once we finished, we washed the grape juice stickiness off ourselves and collapsed into chairs. The host brought us cool glasses of beer as well as rice pudding. Oh, did I ever devour both of them. I'd like to think I deserved it!

The family invited us to stay for dinner, but we declined and opted instead for a couple hours of napping at home. It was an exhausting but very fulfilling day. Here's to hoping that the family remembers us when they are handing out the bottles of wine they make with the grapes we helped pick :D :D :D