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Domaine de la Vougeraie
Organic and biodynamic growing methods in the vineyard are to be applauded, but just how do the growers control the diseases which can so easily ruin the vine?
The Domaine de la Vougeraie has used exclusively organic growing methods since its foundation in 1999, and switched to biodynamic cultivation in 2001. One of the estate’s characteristics is the use of wild and cultivated plants in both a preventative and curative way across all of its 40 hectares.
Summer is, of course, the prime season for harvesting these plants. In its herbarium at Premeaux-Prissey, the estate grows many of those used in its concoctions, made by soaking in boiling water for the more woody plants, or as a simple infusion for the finer ones. They are used either fresh or dried, and are kept in the dark at the Tisaneraie de Vougeot. Their precious virtues each have a specific use, and they are applied as a spray according to the vagaries of the weather and the intensity of disease outbreaks, especially downy and powdery mildew.
Thierry Jeannin, who is in charge of vine growing on the Côte de Nuits, is the man responsible for the harvest, drying and dynamic preparations at the Clos du Prieuré. The Domaine only uses local plants, and there is a wide range of flora to be found if one looks in the vines and surrounding areas; in the ditches, meadows, riverbanks and forests, on the limestone rock of the Côte overlooking the vines – many different locations offer many different varieties in an area of just a few square miles.
The wild plants, flowers, leaves and barks are freshly gathered nearby the Domaine to preserve all of their properties. They must be macerated in scalding water for twenty minutes and then filtered. These highly-concentrated preparations are diluted and then combined with Bordeaux mixture*, and must be used within 24 hours.
All of these infusions are based on nettle, the indispensable plant for any biodynamic gardener, and are sprayed from a tractor or by hand spray in the less accessible places, once a week, one after the other.
The list below gives the plants’ main qualities, but there are many others not included here and many other combinations.
Nettle: aside from its famous value as a stimulant, it has cryptogamic properties (against downy and powdery mildew) and is used every ten days.
Comfrey: an insecticide rich in boron which encourages homogeneity of flowering.
Oak (bark and leaves): fungicidal.
Elder: (flowers and leaves) fungicidal and deterrent to insects.
Horsetail: mineral giving and revitalizing, it reinforces the cell walls against external attacks.
Yarrow: fungicidal, especially against powdery mildew.
This year, two new plants have been added to the biodynamic arsenal: chamomile and valerian.
Chamomile is a disinfectant with an anti-fungal action. It allows the doses of copper to be reduced. It also acts against hydric stress and slowed maturity.
The Purple Valerian used on the estate, once known as “cure all”, is extremely precious and acts as an anti-stress agent for both vines and people. It is thus used in many instances, and also has healing properties.
Another advantage of phytotherapy is the reduction of metals in the soil. By associating the plant remedies with sulfur, we have found that we can significantly reduce doses of copper in the Bordeaux mix which forms the basis of all these treatments. The question remains, how low can we go while the treatment continues to have an effect?
This year, thanks to the exceptionally good health of the vines, treatments have been even further reduced, with doses of copper of 1.5kg/hectare, compared to the usual 6kg.
Lastly, there was a surprising alternative which is also used in farming, yet which comes from the ocean. Seaweed, but not just any seaweed: Lithothamnion from Glénan acts as an immunostimulant against attacks by fungi.
*Bordeaux mixture: a blend of sulfur and copper used to fight powdery and downy mildew.
Pierre Masson, Guide Pratique de la Biodynamie
François Bouchet, L’Agriculture Biodynamique
Lunar calendar based on Maria Thun
Le Jardin de Cîteaux - Secrets et Vertus des Plantes Médicinales by Pierre Delaveau, Michelle Lorrain, François Mortier, Caroline and Jean Rivolier, Abbé René Schweitzer
And Pierre Vincent’s biodynamic notebooks from nine years as winemaker at the Domaine de La Vougeraie.
Domaine de la Vougeraie is part of the Boisset Group