The grape-picking season in France has just begun and will last until early fall across the numerous viticultural regions of France. If you want to take part in this seasonal activity – which is convivial but very physical – here is some advice to follow.
Warning: The harvest is real work and leaves hardly any time to play the tourist. The grape-pickers are, principally, the unemployed or youths looking for a summer job that will last 9–15 days. It is essential that you are in good physical shape. Apart from its social side, the harvest is back-breaking labor, restricting workers to a hunched-over position, and requiring patience and dexterity.
Nevertheless, women and men over the age of 18 are welcome. Having a vehicle is also a significant asset. Generally, there are three types of positions to be filled: cutters, carriers, and those who empty the buckets. In general, a grape-picker will work for 10 hours maximum per day. He (or she) must make sure that their period of rest between shifts amounts to at least 11 hours. One day off each week is obligatory.
Whom should you talk to?
To help potential pickers find estates that require reinforcements during harvest time, the French government employment agency Pôle Emploi keeps a long list of job offers. Each season, they create a special category for vintners who are recruiting seasonal workers, in each viticultural region. Vineyards can place their advertisements with the agency, and they are accessible via the internet. Seasonal employees can also approach the individual federations of vintners, who will place them in the appropriate vineyard.
Grape-pickers may be remunerated in different ways: either by the job, or by the hour. It depends on the employer, but also on the position. The general rules are that the minimum wage – 9.40 euros ($11.50) gross per hour – is standard. If pickers' wages depend on the harvest, you can count on a remuneration of between 0.15 and 0.25 euros (0.18–0.31 cents) per kilo. Although this is becoming less common, some vineyards do still offer food and lodging to grape-pickers during their employment.
Some growers also establish a “harvest contract” (le contrat vendanges). This type of contract allows the employer to avoid paying “social contributions” (such as insurance and maternity leave), which reduces their expenses and means that the grape-picker can receive a higher salary. And the cherry on the cake? Some federations also offer liters of wine as a bonus.
Some contacts for finding more information