So February is turning out to be a very busy month in the vines. On Wednesday Jeff invited me over to see the first ploughing (labour)of the year. The plant cover of winter is ploughed into the soil to add organic matter. This has been a long established practice and as scientific research continues it is proving to be another example of traditional practice being based unwittingly in sound theory. According to research** by leading soil expert Claire Chenu in 2011 the organic matter which is ploughed into the soil helps to boost microbial and animal life in the soil. In turn this adds air to the soil which the vine roots can use to help them take up water and nutrients. Healthy vines make good wine and will hopefully be able to resist diseases. Certainly as the plough turned over the soil some big worms were speedily digging back into the earth, a clear sign of healthy soils.
The plough was set to a very shallow depth,no more than 20cm as this is a first plough of the year. Jeff worked the soil in every two rows allowing the tractor to turn easily, the other row will be ploughed in two or three days. The tractor is not a full size that you might see farmers using but more lightweight to try to minimise compaction of the soil.
Meanwhile at the Peilhan vineyard Michel and Renaud were busy working on the trees and plants which guard part of the parcel.They were cutting down cannes de provence, pruning the blossoming almond trees and strimming the plants between them. All part of the effort Jeff makes to improve the ecology of his vineyards.
Carole was busy over in La Garrigue vineyard pruning the grenache section. She talked me through the decisions she was making at each cut to explain how the vines would benefit. What struck me was how she was thinking ahead to how the vine would grow not just this year but in the next 2 – 3 years. A skilled worker is always great to watch in action and I was honoured to listen to Carole explain it to me. You can see her at work in the video here.
So,the patron, Carole, Michel and Renaud were hard at work. What about me? Well, Jeff offered to let me drive the tractor but I doubt I could afford to pay him the compensation for all the vines I would have ripped up! Meanwhile there was one very critical observer, a crucial part of the team.
** Quoted in Jamie Goode, “Wine Science, p32”