Monday 23 September 2019

Cumières (autumn is coming)

On Saturday we set off to Cumières to spend the weekend there.  If the forecast is to be believed it was going to be the last weekend with 30-degree temperatures, so we set off early.  Well, it was ten o’clock and we consider that early for a Saturday and we didn’t have far to go anyway.

As we went through Ay, we passed a distillery that processes the waste, or pomace, from the grapes used for champagne making.  We could smell the place long before we reached it. The distillery produces several different spirits including Marc de Champagne, Ratafia, Fine de la Marne and Marc brandy.  Marc is another word for pomace and 90,000 tonnes are collected during the three-week harvest.  Every road we passed seemed to have a truck full of the stuff heading for the distillery. 

One of several piles of pomace
The waste after distillation is processed into animal feed and fertilizer.

We started passing walnut trees overhanging the cut so stopped under a couple to see if the nuts were ready.  The branches have to be shaken and any nuts that are ready fall to the ground, or the water in our case.  Karen was in charge of shaking the branches and fishing out any nuts, but it seemed that none were ready yet.

Having a shake
It wasn’t long before we reached the last lock on the canal that would drop us down to the River Marne.  For once, it wasn’t a smooth transit as, once we were in, we couldn’t get the gates to close. We tried all the tricks we picked up on other canals where we have come across similar methods of operation but to no avail. 

A large sign indicated that VHF radio channel 22 should be used in case of emergencies or problems but I couldn’t raise a response.  We then found a phone number and got through to an éclusier who was with us within ten minutes and we were on our way.

Leaving the Canal latéral à la Marne to join the River Marne
We were hoping the pontoon at Cumières didn’t have any boats on it as we wanted to stay there for a couple of days.  As well as being a lovely spot it has free electricity and water, not that we need electricity with the solar panels working well in this weather.  If we do any washing, then we would plug in as it’s far more pleasant than sitting there with the engine running to drive the washing machine.

Moored on the pontoon at Cumières
The pontoon had a day trip boat on but there was still room for us.  We knew it wouldn’t be there long as they were a trip boat and the guests were in town being shown around a champagne house.

Our view from the front, over the vineyards at Cumières
Although we could see the odd van and tractor in the vineyards, there wasn’t the hive of activity that there would have been over the previous fortnight.  We could see groups of people in a few areas still being picked but it was clearly nearly the end of the harvest here.

After lunch we took a circular walk around Cumières and then through the vineyards up to the top of the hill, taking in the abbey at Hautville. 

Usual large floral displays at the mairie
On our way up – just a few white vans in the distance
Some picking was going on and we saw the occasional tractor or pickup heading down to town full up with crates of grapes.  Of course, there were a similar number coming back up the hill with empty crates. 

Rather precarious looking pickup
The road surface was quite sticky in places from dried grape juice.  In the town we had noticed that the streets outside the wineries were washed clean each evening and had also noticed it in Mareuil-sur-Ay.

As expected, many of the vans were eastern European and mainly Polish:

Polish vans
We were surprised at the volume of grapes that lay discard between the vines but, thinking about it, only the best are used and there is a strict limit to the volume of champagne that can be produced per hectare.

Discarded bunches of grapes
A crate that had met a bitter end
This part of the Marne valley has vineyards on the hills on both sides and we had some fantastic views.

Looking down to Cumières where we are moored
Back in town we looked around some of the champagne house yards and could see more signs that the harvest was nearly at an end.  There were piles of cleaned crates and the metal pallets that they are stacked on for ease of manoeuvring by forklift trucks.

Yellow forklift unloading crates of grapes, and pallets being cleaned  

Crates cleaned ready for next year
On our return we spent the rest of the day at the boat, taking it easy as it was Saturday.  During the morning we had cruised ten miles down two locks.

Sunday morning saw us having a bike ride along the cycle path that runs alongside the River Marne.  We were looking to see how busy the moorings were further downstream.  For example, when we came up this river, Damery, one of the places we wanted to visit, was full up.  Today there were no boats there so it looks like we won't have to worry.

When we got back we washed the boat as it's only been washed once since we've been over here and has therefore got rather dirty.  After lunch it started raining but as we planned on staying in and catching up on some of the rugby matches it didn't matter.  The rain didn't amount to much or last long but it definitely gave us the feeling that autumn is on its way.  This was the first rain we had had since 13th August but clearly not enough to top up the canal system reservoirs.

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