Monday, April 16, 2012

The Grape Harvest

I had the good fortune to be invited to a Vendemia (grape harvest) out in the country south of Santiago.  Unfortunately my friends who invited me couldn't go, so I jumped on a bus and followed the instructions from Juan and Luis (my hosts): take the bus to Cauquenes, along the Los Conquistadores route, get off the bus at the Las Garzas bridge, around kilometer 55.  

So I jumped off the bus at this rural location, with the bus guy eyeing me twice to make sure I knew where I was going (I didn't).  I waited at the stop and saw a guy riding a horse, and carrying the reins of another horse -- ah! this must be Juan I thought.  I stood and looked at the man as he approached, gave him a "quĂ© tal?" as he neared, and watched him silently clop-clop past me.  I guess that wasn't Juan.

After five more minutes Juan arrived, wearing glasses, sporting a great moustache and a tan hat that covered his neck.  He led me through the woods to the field of grapes, where I spent the next few hours filling baskets with the sweet, sticky fruit.

The group of about 25 Chileans and gringos loaded up the trucks and ate a few sweet grapes along the way.  We climbed up to the house and spent the evening eating grilled meat, drinking wine and punch, and singing songs -- some of them fairly salacious.  We gringos felt like failures because we couldn't think of many good songs to sings as a group, only "Yesterday" by the Beatles.

The next morning we woke up late, rolled big barrels -- made of a clay/mortar substance -- to prepare chicha, a wine/liquor drink made from grapes.  We spent some time smashing grapes then shared a hearty lunch among good company and made our way on the bus back to the big city.

Getting off the bus, at the bridge "Las Garzas" near the town of Cauquenes, 4.5 hours south of Santiago.
Waiting for Juan, a friend of friends.
I mistakenly thought this guy on the horse was Juan.
Juan leading me to his family's house and the vineyard.
The fields of grapes, with the house in the distance.
Loading the truck.

The grapes.
Piling up the grapes for loading on the truck.
Loading up the truck at the end of the day.
Carne, mucha carne.
Singing campfire songs, great fun.
The drummer keeps getting more and more outrageous as the night goes on.
View in the morning.
Getting the barrels ready for chicha, a strong, sweet wine-type drink.
Rolling the barrels into place.
Cleaning things out.
Long-armed Joe climbing in to place the plug.
Preparing the grapes for smashing.
Smashing the grapes.
Don't forget to remove the twigs and leaves.
More smashing....
...and smashing...
...and smashing.
Lentil soup, very tastey.
The house, being constructed with mud and hay.
Wall construction.
Tarantula found in the vegetation.
Waiting for the bus back to Santiago.