Grégoire grape harvester, France. [Alamy image ref. BEHC87]

The “Domaine de Ris” vineyard in nearby Bossay-sur-Claise is no more. For a few years I had photographed their 14,000 vines in various states of growth, tasted a few grapes on occasion, watched their vineyard’s small staff trim them by hand every Spring, stood further back as the Lamborghini vineyard tractor (vineyard tractors have a very narrow wheelbase to negotiate the lines of vines) towed a spraying contraption and, as here watched and photographed the harvest by another strange but specialised Grégoire grape harvesting machine.

Estimates show that a mechanical grape harvester, in one hour, can harvest the equivalent of 10 hand-pickers in a full day… and having picked grapes on several occasions in this area I know how backbreaking the job can be on low-growing vines and how inefficient it can be.

The Grégoire company was founded in 1972 as a small family company concerned with the manufacturing and maintenance of small farm machinery. In the late 1970’s, Edward Grégoire and his sons began to develop tow-behind, and later self-propelled, grape harvesting equipment. Grégoire is the world’s leading supplier of grape harvesting equipment. The first harvester was produced in 1978, and the brand today represents the widest range on the market with more than 400 harvesters are sold all over the globe every year.

However, that figure is not many compared to basic tractor sales, and they are actually fairly uncommon to come across, especially as their working season is fairly short in late Summer. This is the only one I have ever seen and I took the opportunity of shooting it at all angles with several focal lengths of lenses… here at the long end of my 70-200mm fast Nikkor zoom.

I’m glad I did – it was the last time the machine worked this vineyard… the owner decided to call it a day at the end of 2009, the vineyard and it’s 14,000 vines now growing straggly and untrimmed and what is left of the last of the Summer’s grapes – after visiting birds have gorged themselves the annual grape – is unpicked and quickly shrivels and rots.

Recently licensed as RM by Alamy for up to a 1-page size reproduction in a textbook with a 3 million print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

Old corn mower, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AMM00P]

When I lived for a decade at the foot of the northern escarpment of Wiltshire’s desolate Salisbury Plain, there was not a week when I didn’t venture out across the minor roads crossing that expanse of mixed farmland and Army firing ranges.

There were large areas of a geological ground type known as “Greensand” in the locality which created specific problems for farmers. The green color of greensand is due to variable amounts of the mineral glauconite, an iron potassium silicate with very low weathering resistance; as a result, greensand tends to be weak and friable. It is a common ingredient as a source of potassium in organic gardening and farming fertilizers. The greensand found at the foot of Salisbury Plain is also very soft… which means that although farmers have a rich source of soil for their crops, it is difficult to harvest them because of the weight of modern harvesting machinery. As a result there were many small farms from the area roughly from West Lavington (just south of Devizes) through to, and beyond, Pewsey and Hungerford where it was quite normal to see traditional corn stooks in the fields at harvest time. Local farmers used traditional lightweight machinery to cut, bind and dry their crops for later threshing, rather than trying to drive a modern combine-harvester on the land at the risk of one sinking to it’s axles in the earth.

This image was licensed for three years for a half-page reproduction in an English “crafts” book with a 25,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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