17 April 2012

Up go the fences

Yesterday afternoon when I went out with the dog, we turned right on our way out the back gate and started down the hill. Going that way, you're not exactly on a road — it's grassy, not gravelly — but the vineyard workers drive down there in their cars or tractors when they are tending the vines on the north side of our property.

As Callie and I walked along, she wanted to smell every blade of grass along the way, so it was slow going. Then we saw a little white Peugeot coming around the bottom of the vineyard, driving up the hill toward us. I didn't immediately recognize the car. (No pictures, because I didn't have my camera with me.)

The deer like to munch on the new growth in April.

When the car stopped and a man got out, I certainly recognized him. It was Bruno, who owns the vineyards all around our house and lives about a mile down the road. Bruno and Patricia operate the Domaine de la Renaudie winery — he's a third-generation vigneron. He had the stub of one of those smelly yellow French cigarettes sticking out of his mouth, the smoke half-hiding his face. That makes him sound a lot older than his approximately 50 years (a youngster in my eyes).

It does look almost good enough to eat, n'est-ce pas ?

« Salut ! », he yelled. « Comment vas-tu ? » He started saying tu to me about five years ago. Patricia says vous to me, but we do the French cheek-kiss bises whenever I see her. Bruno wanted to give Callie the collie a caresse on her head, but she was being stand-offish. He persisted, and for the first time Callie gave in. She loves Bruno's father Jacques, who's in his 80s now, but she's always been afraid of Bruno.


"I've had to put the electric fences back up," Bruno told me. "Sorry." He knows that the electric fences block off the path that takes us down through the woods, where Callie likes to walk in the afternoon. No problem, I told Bruno, I understand. Deer come up out of the woods and eat the tender new leaves on the vines at this time of year.

This was the fence a few days ago, before Bruno pulled
the wires back up and turned on "the juice.

He said that he had neglected to re-electrify the fences around some parcels of vines he owns over on the next ridge, and deer had done significant damage there. Now that some farmers are growing grain in fields down below in the river valley, Bruno said, the deer seem to spend more time down there. He's happy about that. I told him I don't see as many deer as I used to, but Callie certainly does smell them, and you can see the tracks they walk as they feed at night.

Fields of grain down the hill and through those woods from the vines

We chatted about how cold it is here right now. I used the word for chilly — frisquet — and Bruno used the term for cold — froid. "I just hope it doesn't freeze overnight," he said. Weather reports had been predicting temperatures right at freezing for this morning. The weather widgets we have on our computer screens says the temperature in Saint-Aignan is –5ºC right now, but I don't see any frost out back. The thermometer on the north side of our house reads about +3 right now. I can't explain the discrepancy.

You can see here how one vigneron has already applied
herbicide to his parcel, while the other hasn't.

Bruno got back in the Peugeot and Callie and I continued our walk down the hill. The dog, of course, jumped right through the electrified wires of the fence and headed down into the woods. I called her and told her we couldn't go that way, but she refused to jump through the fence a second time. I continued walking along the fence and Callie kept running along on the opposite side, getting into deeper and thicker woods and brambles.

Grape-vine leaves

Bruno drove over to where I was standing and calling the dog. He got out holding a big red-handled axe. "The dog went through the fence, didn't he?" Bruno said. Yep. "Here, I can let you step over," he said as he held the wires down with the axe handle. "But you'll have to walk all the way down to the bottom and then back up the hill." He doesn't know that we do that exact walk on very many afternoons.

Lichens on the north side of a tree trunk

But then there was Callie, coming over to watch what we were doing. Bruno let the fence wires spring back up, and then he pulled the bottom wire up, still using the axe handle. "Dogs can feel the current in the ground before they even get to the fence," he said, "and they don't like it. They don't wear shoes the way we do — they just walk on their little coussinets" — their paw pads. I've been shocked by the fence before, touching it to see how it would feel, and it's not pleasant.

Remains of last year's growth in the vineyard

Callie didn't want to come back through the fence, but with both of us calling her — Viens ! Come! — she screwed up her courage and scooted under the wires. So that's it for the long walks through the woods, down the hill, and back up the paved road — for the near future, anyway. After the leaves are completely developed on the grape vines, the fence will come down again. The deer don't like the tough mature leaves, and I don't think they feed on the grapes either.


  1. We've had a frost here - not heavy, but not light either. Our temp widget says it's -1 outside, which is probably about right.

  2. Just got back from my walk through the vineyard. No signs of frost at all.

  3. No frost here this morning but it is cold. Even now at midday my temp widget says it's only 6C [and a N wind].

  4. Minus 2.5C when I got up this morning and it then fell to -3... wind from the north. It swung round to the South West and the temperature rose markedly... it is now WSW and we have 10C [but with a high wind chill factor, unknown because the laptop has gone belly-up!]

    Now Niall & Antoinette live on the 'tops' of the Aigronne Valley.... we live at the bottom of the same... we had a thick frost this morning so there goes all the soft fruit.... :-(

  5. A very enjoyable read before we both go to bed.

  6. “En avril ne te découvre pas d'un fil” seems appropriate.

    Here is an interesting link for the translation and comments:

  7. That's fascinating about Callie (and dogs in general) and the electrified fence.

    Thanks for the gorgeous close-ups of the new growth.


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