Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic viticulteurs continue their labours as the 2020 vintage moves on. In France strict regulations about movement and working conditions increase the difficulty of their task. The vines continue to grow and need to be tended. The wines in tank need to be supervised, blended and, even, bottled. Delay in the latter process could lead to financial shortfalls in the short and medium terms, and even in these unique times that has to be on the minds of the winemakers.
Budding began pretty much as normal in Puimisson, there were reports of early budding elsewhere but Jeff reported that he was happy with an average date. Since then the vines have grown quite quickly and around this time Jeff would seek to plough the grass, plants and flowers into the soil to act as a natural fertiliser. Using a pioche to hoe the plants between the vines into the soil is hard physical work. With such a large area of vines Jeff needs other workers to assist and the Moroccan team from vendanges have also been doing work too. Using social distance rules and other safety measures of course.
However, the problems caused by the pandemic have been compounded in the last week by rain. Jeff told me that there was 80mm of rain in that time, a storm on Sunday 26th brought 35mm alone with another heavy period on Monday evening. The videos he sent me of Peilhan vineyard show the result.
These are vineyards with very spongy soil which absorb water very well after 33 years of organic care. My experience of heavy rains in the area showed me a remarkable difference between Jeff’s vineyards and those of neighbours whose soils have been compacted by chemical treatment and heavy machinery such as harvesting machines. Therefore if Peilhan is waterlogged surrounding vineyards are worse. This is another reason why Jeff has ditches, trees and shrubs around his vines to help protect them.
Photos show the problem of working in the vines after such rain. Even Icare found the going too heavy and after running around he was exhausted at lunchtime when he got home.
However, the real threat is not difficult working conditions, rather the threat of mildew, in this case downy mildew. The forecast for the next few days is for higher temperatures, up to 25˚C. That is the ideal combination for mildew to form.
Mildew ravaged the Languedoc and other southern regions two years ago and is a consistent threat. The spores live in the soil and fallen leaves from the last vintage. If a viticulteur was to plough or use a pioche now it would release the spores even more than nature would do.
In any case the very soft ground means that machines could not operate between the vines. Jeff is having to use spray strapped to his back in order to try and protect the vines from mildew, an old fashioned way of working but the only option at present. We can only hope that nature is kinder than looks likely and that the sprays of herbal tisanes and sulphur do work their magic.
It never rains but it pours.