10 November 2012

Dogs, tractors, and co-ops

On my last afternoon walk with the collie, the weather was nice and light conditions were good for taking photos. Callie and I headed out the gravel road, up into the vines. Off to the left, I could see a plume of smoke rising from the far end of a long row, a good distance from the road. Somebody was out there pruning vines and burning clippings.

Callie keeping an eye on a suspicious tractor

It was B. and S., who own several parcels of vines in the Renaudière vineyard. I recognized their cars. B. is one of the few vignerons who still burns clippings as he goes, in the old style. He has a rusty oil drum rig, cut open, with wheels, and he rolls it along with him up and down the rows, a fire burning inside and smoke pouring out.  He works the vines all year round, and his wife, S., comes to help out in certain seasons. They must be in their 40s or early 50s.

B. and S. also own this parcel of vines, seen on a November afternoon near sunset.

They start their pruning early, right after the harvest, and before the weather turns really cold. Other vineyard crews wait until December or January to start the pruning work — damn the cold rain and snow. The vines have to be pruned every winter to stimulate abundant new growth in the spring and summer, and the work is done by hand.

B. and S. doing the winter pruning and burning the trimmings

Like many local grape growers, B. and S. don't make wine themselves — at least not to sell. They do make some for home use, they've told me, but they are members of a local cooperative. The co-op takes grapes from many different member growers, crushes them, and ferments the juice into wines that can be either AOC vintages or simple vins de pays. In my experience, the "country wines" can be every bit as good as the AOC vintages. What is good wine? It's the wine you like, for whatever reason.

Looking out over the vineyard from the northwest side

Oh, dogs and tractors. B. and S. often bring two or even three dogs with them when they work in the vineyard. One of them is an energetic German shepherd puppy, and Callie is afraid of him. Callie loves B. himself, by the way, as well as B.'s dog Max, who is much older was a "friend" of Collette's (our dog that died in 2006). When the big shepherd puppy comes bounding up, all legs and open jaws, Callie drops to the ground and waits for him to move away. Callie is afraid of tractors too. In the first picture above, she has heard and seen a tractor running up and down the rows of vines and she doesn't want to go anywhere near it.


  1. Lovely set of autumnal pictures, Ken.
    Between us and Chaumassay there is a small parcel of vines, at a road junction, managed by two elderly men... they use the wheeled half barrel too. Not knowing the ins and outs, when I first saw it sitting there, I thought it was to collect the prunings for burning at home... then, on my way home, I saw the thing ablaze... with a pot [of coffee?], hanging from a bent metal arm, right in the middle of the flames. Since then I've seen it used every year... in, as you say, the depths of winter.

    I'm glad Callie is cautious around tractors... a lot of the tractors aren't cautious around cars or people, let alone dogs or other animals.
    We are meant to get out of their way!!

  2. You say, and I do agree, "What is good wine? It's the wine you like, for whatever reason." Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, and it goes for everything else you can think of.

  3. I'm glad to know that they have those co-ops, so that it enables local growers to keep up the craft without having to take part in the expense of making the wine itself. I love learning these kinds of things from you, Ken :)

  4. Tim, that hanging coffee pot reminds me of wagon train days in the US. I bet that coffee gets pretty sting, but useful on a cold day in France.

  5. We outlanders never realize the amount of work that goes into our bottle of wine.


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