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For the budget traveler, touring the wine regions of France seems like an expensive prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Ann Mah writes about her experience in the Champagne region for The New York Times, noting that you helping with the grape harvest means you can save — and have an invaluable cultural experience — at the same time.
“I had come to the rolling slopes of Champagne to participate in the age-old tradition of les vendanges, the annual wine harvest that takes place at summer’s end,” she writes.
Wineries often rely on temporary labor during the harvest.
“In exchange for long days of toil, they often offer meals, wine and lodging, making this an ideal vacation for the budget traveler,” she says.
While volunteer labor is a gray area within French law, it’s a tradition that dates back centuries.
“On the other hand, there exists a timeless tradition of volunteer grape harvesting — as ancient, perhaps, as wine itself — necessitated by the sheer volume of urgent activity required to collect ripe cultivated grapes and initiate supervised fermentation,” says Mah.
Setting up lodging was as simple as sending an email. Mah sent messages to three wineries volunteering her services and received replies of yes from all three.
READ MORE: More than Grapes: Exploring Napa Valley’s Culinary Credentials
“In the end, I chose the type of wine I like the best. And that is how I found myself picking pinot meunier grapes amid a minor tempest in Champagne,” she says.
While the experience definitely does not equate to staying in a fine hotel and sipping champagne by the pool, the knowledge and cultural experiences you gain are irreplaceable. For more on Mah’s experience on the vineyard, read on here.