No Room for Grape Pickers in Champagne this Harvest

27th April 2016

No Room for Grape Pickers in Champagne this Harvest

Champagne grapes must be picked by hand. 120,000 people come for the harvest each year, the largest number in France. This year could see a substantial loss of employment and an accommadation crisis because of an enforcement of a regulation in the French Rural Code.

In 1995 a regulation was added to the code that said a room must measure 9 sq metres for the first occupant and 7 sq metres for the other occupants with a minimum of 6 people in each room. There are then specific stipulations for the other parts of the accomamdation that include separation of the sexes.

Some Champagne makers stopped including accommadation. The conversion was expensive and failure to conform could cost 100’s of euros in penalties. There’s just 5% of houses that now offer accommadation. The few jobs available with them go very quickly. The houses may offer as an alternative places for tents or camper vans.

The people who do the harvest came back year after year and often depend on bed and board. The Champagne industry has turned to a new workforce that don’t need accommadation. Local people with transport. Agencies who put advertisements on the net to hire foreign workers. There are also quite a number of travellers.

Those Champagne houses who still decided to provide accommadation were offered a glimmer of hope in 1997. Dispensations were granted because the pickers were only going to need their lodgings for up to 15 days. The minimum surface per occupant was reduced to 4.5 sq metres and a ninimum of 12 people per room.

This all changed at the end of 2015. It was decided to return to a strict application of the 1995 regulation. More than 8,000 jobs are at risk for the 2016 harvest.

If nothing happens regions in the north and east of France that supply a lot of the workforce could be seriously affected. The use of foreign workers could cost the state a loss of up to 3 billion euros in social contributions. There could be pickers who come without lodgings that decide to sleep in their tents or cars.

It’s hoped that in the months leading to the harvest that there will be a new positive response for dispensations. An ammendment to the regulation will be proposed in May. Although the situation is difficult it’s not expected to have any affect of the harvest.


Jon Catt

Tour guide for the Champagne region who lives in Troyes. Specialising in family run Champagne house visits in the Aube and the Marne plus wine tours in the Yonne and Côte d'Or.