You’ve probably seen lots of photos of the harvest in wine regions throughout the world. It looks beautiful – those full clusters of grapes, the wine-stained hands of the workers, the greenery of the foliage, and the shadows cast by the sun low on the horizon as the workers carry baskets full of grapes. This is the romantic part that gets a lot of play in travel magazines and wine-country brochures.
What you don’t usually see is what happens after that. All those baskets get emptied into a wagon trailer, which is hitched to a tractor for the drive back to the winery. In many villages, the wineries aren’t located right on the fields, and have to be trucked along the roads. If you’ve ever been on some of these country roads, you know that they’re barely big enough for one car, let alone a trailer. There’s no chance of passing. By law in France, their top speed is 25 kilometers per hour. (Not that they could go a whole lot faster anyway.) So people who live in wine-producing villages are used to getting stuck behind trailers full of grapes during the harvest.
One of the villages in the southern Rhône valley is giving these oft-cursed trailers a makeover. This year, the winemakers of Cairanne asked students attending art schools in Nimes and Angers to decorate the trailers as part of a festival that was held on September 1 in the village. Individual art students each teamed up with a winemaker to create a painted trailer that expresses their philosophies about art and winemaking.
The idea for decorating the trailers came about as part of a larger effort to create a festival taking place during the harvest. Harvest is a busy and happy time, but also one where the threat of bad weather can drive farmers and winemakers into a panic. The winemakers decided on this Vendange d’Artistes, or Artists’ Harvest, as a way to bring the village together for some fun before the 20-hour days of harvesting begin.
The other purpose of decorating the trailers is to generate interest in the wines – the winemakers hope that if you like the painting on a trailer you see on the road, you’ll follow it to the winery and get to know the wines as well.
Thirty decorated trailers from 23 wineries were displayed Sunday in the village square. Non-students and professional artists also teamed up with wineries to create trailer art. A panel of professional artists served as judges and presented awards. My friend Diane Tomczak, who lives in the nearby village of Villedieu, went to the festival and shared some of the photos she took, and she reports that a good time was had by all.
Starting Monday morning, the trailers were on the road again. I imagine that people won’t mind it too much if they get stuck behind one of them. At least there’s something nice to look at!
There are two versions of this week’s recipe – the weeknight version and one if you have a little more time. Chickpea stew is a tasty dish and versatile too. You can make it thinner and have it as a soup, adding pasta. Or add less liquid and make it thicker, more like a cassoulet. Especially this version, which has sausage in it. Of course, feel free to add any meat you like, or none at all. That won’t make it entirely meatless, though. The flavor base is made with pancetta, a cured, un-smoked Italian bacon. It has a cleaner flavor than bacon and works well in this dish. If you can’t find it, use any un-smoked bacon (I’ve found packages of cured, un-smoked American bacon at Whole Foods). You can also use regular smoked bacon, but simmer it in water for about five minutes to remove some of the smoky flavor.
In the spirit of the Vendange d’Artistes, what better to pair with the stew than two wines from Cairanne? Both are from Les Terrasses du Belvédère, and are robust reds. The Vieilles Vignes 2005 (on sale for $13) is 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, and 5% Mourvèdre. The Cuvée Prestige 2003 (on sale for $16) is mostly Syrah (80%, with 15% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre), and is a great example of how a very hot year can make wines that age wonderfully. Be sure to open it at least a half hour before you drink it to appreciate all its flavors. These wines may not be as much fun to look at as the painted trailers, but they’re definitely beautiful!
** A note for trivia buffs — I was going to call this post “They Call the Wind Mistral,” but then thought that it might be a little obscure. Nonetheless, the first three people who can tell me why I thought of that name will get a free bottle of wine from Cairanne. The fine print: you must be over 21 years of age, and you must live in Washington, DC and be able to take delivery at a valid Washington, DC address. No exceptions. Send an e-mail to first dot vine at verizon dot net to enter, and please include your full contact information. Good luck!
5 – 15 ounce cans cooked chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and drained again
3 to 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound dried chickpeas, rinsed, and soaked overnight covered in at least 2 inches of water
1 28-ounce can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, put through a food mill to crush and remove seeds
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the sausages
6 ounces pancetta, finely minced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 pound Italian sausage links (sweet or hot)
¼ pound spaghetti, broken into pieces and cooked until done (optional)
Grated Pecorino cheese for serving
Make the tomato sauce: heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan and add the pancetta. Cook until it’s nice and crisp, then add the garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and some salt and pepper. Cook until you smell the garlic, then add the tomatoes (either crushed or milled). Simmer for 15 minutes, then set aside.
Make the chickpeas: for the weeknight version, put the drained canned chickpeas in a large pot and add 3 cups of stock. Bring to a simmer. For the weekend version, drain the soaked chickpeas, then put them back in the pot. Cover them with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until done, anywhere from one to three hours (depending on the age of the chickpeas). Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Add the chickpeas and 3 cups of the liquid back to the pot and bring to a simmer. Reserve the rest of the liquid.
Cook the sausages: Prick the sausage links with a fork in several places. Heat a little olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold all the sausage links, then brown the sausages all over. Remove the sausages to a cutting board and let them cool for a couple of minutes. Then slice them into ½-inch pieces. Reheat the skillet and add the sliced sausage pieces, cooking until they’re lightly browned. Remove the sausage pieces with a slotted spoon and add them to the chickpeas. Pour the fat out of the skillet, then add some of the chickpea cooking liquid or stock to the pan – place it over low heat and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove the browned bits. Pour the liquid from the skillet into the pot with the chickpeas.
Finishing: Add the tomato sauce to the chickpeas and sausages and simmer for 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Add more stock or cooking liquid to the pot if you’d like it to be more like a soup. To serve, put a little of the cooked spaghetti in each bowl, if desired, and then ladle the chickpea mixture over the top. Serve with a little grated Pecorino cheese.