amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Vandalism returns to Puimisson

En francais

I was in a positive mood about the blog yesterday, very high reading figures after my article about the St. Chinian vineyard. I had a post in preparation about the new Puimisson vineyards of Jeff Coutelou, especially the exciting project to boost nature in the Peilhan vineyard. This photo taken at the end of September shows the hedge and fruit trees which Jeff has nurtured there to bring biodiversity to an area which is very much a monoculture of vines.

This work had been disrupted back in 2016 and 2017 by the acts of a vandal who set fire to the first trees and plants which Jeff put in. That person also burned other parts of Jeff’s vineyards, destroying more trees, plants and vines. I was based in France at that time and spent much of my time with Jeff. I know how hurt he was by those attacks for doing something which he, and all right minded people, saw as helping to improve the area. Whether jealousy, bitterness or madness the acts of the vandal or vandals were criminal. Then things seemed to stop, there were no more attacks. Until yesterday.

The same scene yesterday

It was a shock to receive a message from Jeff in the afternoon that he had just returned from Peilhan to find 500m of the hedgerow destroyed and still smoking when he was there, 500 trees included. To burn that much plantation the criminal had planned their actions, using petrol to target the length of the hedge.

It is just sickening, I am angry and frustrated and I can only imagine how Jeff must feel at this attack on everything he stands for. The messages of support he has received will boost his morale but I can only hope that he feels strong enough to fight back.

Nature still resists

Quick update – Jeff just posted this photo, he will fight back and trust in nature


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Neighbours

En français

“Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours”. So went the theme tune to a very popular Australian Television show. Well, it seems the message has not reached Puimisson.

Back in the spring I reported that the Carignan vineyard, Rec D’Oulette (also known as Chemin De Pailhès), had been vandalised. Jeff had planted lots of trees and flowers to create biodiversity in an area of grapevine monoculture. A neighbour decided to mow the flower patch one night.  And he has struck again.

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In happier days

On Monday evening Jeff messaged me to say that two trees had been destroyed. He planted the trees (a pomegranate and a hazelnut) five years ago, watered them, looked after them. Now his money, his time and his care lie in crushed and broken wood on the ground. His neighbour had taken a crushing machine to them, a girobroyeur.

What sort of neighbour would do such a thing? Certainly not the co-operative sort which he would claim to be (if you understand what I am saying). Rather, a neighbour driven by jealousy, suspicion, anger. A neighbour whose own vines are pumped high and deeply coloured with chemicals and irrigation. A neighbour who cannot understand that somebody else might think and act differently. A man with no respect for his neighbour, his colleague nor for the land and nature which gives him his living. What sort of vigneron is that? But let us leave that wretched individual and turn to Mas Coutelou and its future.

Jeff was understandably upset, angry and disheartened by his neighbour’s actions. He wondered whether he should just give up, tired of providing the lone oasis of sustainability in a desert of land damaged by chemicals, erosion and overworking.

Happily, the support of many, via Facebook for example, has heartened him and he has a plan in place which will help to fight back with your help. I shall leave him to announce that plan. Meanwhile I urge you to read Jeff’s words, published on August 4th which explains his determination and motivation in fighting for nature.

Ode To Biodiversity

“Thank you all for your messages of support for the testing time I have just come through.

I do not proselytize about my way of working and I do not demand that my colleagues should join me but I feel I have the right to do what I want on my land. When in 1987 my father took the decision to join Nature and Progress, he was considered as some kind of extraterrestrial. The department of Hérault at that time had less than 200 hectares of vines grown organically, there are more than 20,000 today. (500 acres / 50,000 acres)

I do not think that we can correct nature because it is always stronger than man and in the end will  win every time. Just consider the viticulture textbooks from the start of the 20thC which suggested that with two treatments of sulfur and one of copper would see you through to harvest. By trying to produce more, by using increasingly powerful products, we have created such resistance to them in the vines that today some need more than 15 chemical treatments to achieve the same result.

We cannot blame the previous generation, they did not know. Modern agriculture has brought social progress for farmers. The replacement of the horse by the tractor, weed killers to replace the pick and hoe, chemical fertilizers to produce more at a lower cost, modern agriculture has helped to soften drudgery.

But now everyone knows. Groundwater is increasingly polluted and you have to go further and further to find barely drinkable water which must go through ever more costly treatments to just about meet the required safety standards. The land is less and less fertile and requires ever increasing amounts of fertilizer to be able to produce the same quantities.

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Vincent staking the olives in Rec D’Oulette

Since we cannot change nature, we must try to adapt to climate change and seek solutions to continue making wine as naturally as possible. Planting trees, shrubs, flowers, increasing plant life is part of a considered approach for the future.

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Erosion in a neighbouring parcel

It is about recreating areas of biodiversity … By continually removing hedges, fruit trees, paths, streams, to create larger and larger parcels, we create areas of vine monoculture which only make them more vulnerable, requiring more and more interventions and more exposed to erosion. We have removed balanced spaces where everything had its place in order to create spaces shaped by man which certainly made it possible to work more efficiently but, also, where man is obliged to act, to correct. For example, a bat can eat 2,000 insects per night, if we had only maintained their habitat we would not have to spray and to fight against vers de la grappe. (A disease caused by those insects)

It is about fighting against global warming … You have all at some time, when the summer sun is hot, enjoyed taking shelter in the shade of a tree. It is the same for the parcels of vines. By planting trees around the vines, we protect them from the drying summer winds. Moreover, passing through the trees, the wind naturally cools down. This is an alternative, sustainable approach to that of putting in place a system of irrigation, which may well effective in the short term but one day may well be limited or banned, as the water table is polluted by this water which comes from the Rhône.

It is about restoring beauty to the landscape …. Work in vineyards is certainly mechanized but is also done on foot. The person who works in a parcel needs to have something which marks the horizon, which allows them to see the end … As plots have become larger, they are no longer on a human scale and the work becomes mechanical, automatic, without love … To look up and see a bird land on a tree, to cool off under an olive tree at the end of a row of vines, to see butterflies and bees in the spring coming to rest on patches of flowers; these are the small pleasures which allow those who work there to feel better and to give more love to their work.

It is about an investment in the future …. In the digital age where everything is about the immediate, it is almost a militant act to plant trees that we will not see fully grown. There was a saying not so long ago, “the olive tree of your grandfather, the mulberry tree of your father, the grapevine of yourself.” Today we see a fashion for displacing ancient olive trees from where they first grew to decorate city roundabouts. We live so much in the now, demanding quick results, that we want to apply the same to nature … To plant a tree involves work, care, money but, especially, a lot of fun. To watch it grow, to attach it to a stake, to prune it to give it shape, to look after it so that it grows, to imagine it fully mature after we have gone; it’s so many things that may seem trivial for some (certainly for the bastard who this week destroyed the trees I had planted 5 years ago), but which mean so much to me.

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Apple tree in Rec D’Oulette

So, what to do? Give up? Surely not …. I said when they crushed my flowers in spring, that in the next year we would plant kilometres of flower patches … Well , though some might not like to hear it, we will continue in the Autumn (Fall) to plant more trees around the vineyards. We will continue to look after them. We will continue to imagine them when they are fully grown. And it will be with great pleasure that we will share this love of nature with you when you come to visit us.”