Lovin' the Loire

Amboise wine harvest: a boon for unemployed youth

Young and unemployed? School dropout? No resume? That’s the profile of most of the grape-pickers who were recruited this fall for a project developed by an association for the empowerment and autonomy of young people in Bolbec, Normandy. Sixteen of these youths ranging in age from 16 to 25 worked in the Amboise vineyards this fall.

A ‘win-win’ solution

“The winegrowing sector is under pressure, so we need to recruit,” said Sébastien Guérineau, principal of Amboise’s winegrowing school, the Lycée Viticole d’Amboise. As luck would have it, “We have young people,” smiled Loïc Garcia, director of the Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture (MJC) in Bolbec.

The MJC has been sending grape-pickers to vineyards in Burgundy and Champagne for more than six years. This year, the Loire Valley wine region was involved for the first time.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Fabrice Magniez, director of Amboise’s winegrowers trade federation. “These are young people who have dropped out of school and have no resume,” added Garcia, the MJC director. “The initial objective is mobility—to get the kids out of their comfort zone into their first professional experience. Basically, it’s about getting them back on track.”

The partnership includes not only the MJC and the Lycée Viticole d’Amboise, but also the winegrowers trade federations of Amboise and Indre-et-Loire. La Gabillière, the Amboise school’s vineyard, is participating as well.

“Another priority is to encourage diversity,” said Garcia. Between 20 and 25 percent of the pickers are students, who work alongside the youths from disadvantaged backgrounds or migrants—often unaccompanied minors—who also benefit from the program.

‘We take care of everything

“These are people who need to feel good about themselves, to give them social support,” Magniez noted. As for the work experience: “It’s a bit of winegrowing, a bit of sales work, a bit of harvesting,” he noted.

In the cellar at Lycée Viticole d’Amboise, 16-year-old Mathis was in charge of cleaning the vats and maintaining machines; he said he was happier harvesting the grapes. On the other hand, Mathys, who is also 16, prefers the cellar because the work is “more varied.” Both come from the Rouen area.

Whatever the participants ‘ background, the MJC “takes care of everything including mobility and food,” Garcia said. “September is a rich, intense month, with youths from all over the world converging in the vineyards to spend two weeks together.”