This post is also available in French
When we plant a vineyard, we are making decisions for 20, 30 or 50 years. The choices we make need to be considered carefully because beyond ourselves, they often engage generations to come. When you think about it, this kind of decision is truly an anachronism in a society that is increasingly fast, where the present is merely the instant, the medium-term is six months and the long-term is often no more than a year. The choice will determine many of the characteristics of wines that will not only need to appeal to today’s consumers, but to those of the distant future. In the absence of a crystal ball, we must grab on to some certainties.
For me, the only immutable truth is the nature’s truth. Planting a vineyard adapted completely to its environment and capable of expressing the nuances of its terroir is never a mistake and the wines that come from this kind of vineyard will always transcend the fashions of the moment. Since ancient times, man has planted grape vines in our terroir here in Costières de Nîmes and over the centuries, from cumulative experience, a number of varietals and cultural practices have been adapted to our land. During the last 40 years, science developed clonal research with (unfortunately, some of us like to say) the primary objectives of regularity and reproducibility of production. The result is a genetic homogeneity that has quickly been exhausted by inbreeding.
We have chosen to take a different path — to go back, if you will — to what we call “massal selection”, what plant nurseries used to do before the arrival of clones. Grafts are taken from old vines that have been selected for the quality of their grapes rather than their quantity. Issued from various outstanding plants, they are then used to propagate new vines. Think of these plants as the “children” issued from their “parents”, although they are all from the same family, their genetic material is not identical. By using these grafts we guarantee that our vineyards retain their genetic diversity, which in turn adds complexity to the wines. An added benefit is that their moderate production will also insure quality.
A second motivation comes from the fact that like all growers we are experiencing today an explosion of mortality due to various wood diseases, which seem to affect the young vines more than the old ones. If science has neither a cure nor a clear explanation for this problem, I think the old vines resist better to these diseases due to their genetic makeup which somehow gives them a better defense than the cloned vines.
This winter, we are planting a new Grenache vineyard with young plants that have been propagated from bud wood of some old vineyards in Châteauneuf du Pape. We also intend to train them as bush vines, a traditional method that is particularly suitable for this variety. So will doing something new with ancestral methods be a guarantee of future success? Only time will tell. Cheers!