• France's news in English
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
The main advantage is that horses have a much lighter "footprint" than tractors, so they compact the ground much less. Photo: AFP

French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs

AFP · 14 Aug 2016, 12:12

Published: 14 Aug 2016 12:12 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"It's a picture postcard image," said oenologist Gilles de Revel, adding that the renaissance took off about 10 years ago with many vineyards looking to burnish their brands.

Using draught horses is a "strong new trend along with organic winegrowing", said De Revel, the dean of the oenology faculty at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences at the University of Bordeaux.

But one Bordeaux vintner, Dominique Leandre-Chevalier, "was really a pioneer" in the revival, De Revel said, noting that he reintroduced horses soon after inheriting his father's vineyard back in 1985.

The vineyard and its Chateau Le Queyroux dates to 1895, a time when all winegrowers were still using horses as they had since the 16th century.

It lies by the Gironde River estuary near the town of Anglade, across from the renowned Medoc region, and includes land on Patiras island in the middle of the waterway -- his horses are loaded onto a barge to reach the spit.

After his father died in an accident at the winery, Leandre-Chevalier decided to revive the old tradition, or as he told AFP, "to reappropriate my ancestors' know-how".

The main advantage is that horses have a much lighter "footprint" than tractors, so they compact the ground much less.

"There's not a lot of science in it," said De Revel. "There's less compacting, so that the soil is allowed to breathe."

Leandre-Chevalier, 53, concentrates his efforts on three hectares (7.5 acres) of land, just a quarter of the original family estate.

He also decided to concentrate his vines, replanting them at 10 times the density -- fitting in up to 33,000 plants per hectare compared with 3,500 previously.

Many grand crus have densities of around 11,000 plants per hectare.

"It's what was done in past centuries, with few clusters on each plant, just two or three -- to conserve the stock's energy," says Leandre-Chevalier, who produces 66,000 bottles of red, white and rose wines a year.

While he set about replanting vines, he devised an original -- and picturesque -- layout for one plot: concentric circles.

Hundreds of other French winegrowers, in Bordeaux as well as Burgundy and the Loire Valley, have embraced draught horses, using them for some or all of their ploughing.

In the Loire winegrowing region of Chinon, British vintner Fiona Beeston hires a mare named Isis to plough her Clos des Capucins vineyard, two plots totalling a little less than three hectares that she bought in 2010 and 2012.

The tranquility of using a horse instead of a tractor "was a real discovery for me," she told AFP by telephone.

Behind the plough, "you are a long way off from the horse's ears... but all you have to do is whisper 'a gauche, un pas arriere' (to the left, one step back), and she hears it all and does it instantly and with tremendous gentleness."

The 60-year-old winegrower said that apart from the problem of compacted soil, tractors hurt the vines' roots with their vibrations, shortening the life of the plants.

Story continues below…

"And the horse doesn't break down," she added with a laugh.

Even some grand crus have embraced horses at least for part of their domains, including the Chateau Latour in Pauillac, across the estuary from Leandre-Chevalier's operation.

In another nod to the past, Leandre-Chevalier uses the petit verdot grape -- which predates the 19th-century phylloxera plague that wiped out vast swathes of France's viticulture -- in some of his reds.

A bit of a rebel, Leandre-Chevalier says he is more concerned with creating wines "of character" than meeting the criteria required for certification as a "controlled designation of origin" (AOC).

While four of his wines do boast the coveted distinction, his best go to market as humble Vins de France -- table wines -- with cheeky names such as 100% Provocateur and L'Homme Cheval (The Horse Man).

Leandre-Chevalier's main claim to fame as a pioneer in the modern use of draught horses coincidentally resonates with his very name, which contains the root words for man and horse.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

France joins fight for rich pickings from post-Brexit UK
Photo: AFP/DcnH/Flickr

France tries to woo EU's bank regulator and other agencies.

How speaking French can really mess up your English
Photo: CollegeDegree360/Flickr

So you've mastered French, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available