On taille, on tire, on brûle. We prune, we pull, we burn. And so the time passes in the vineyards of the Côte-d’Or during the long winter months. We are only three during this period, with an occasional fourth hand, to finish the winter activities of pruning, pulling last years unneeded canes from the wires, and burning these canes in rusted old handmade wheelbarrows, ‘brouettes’. We manage 4.75 hectares of premier and grand cru vineyards in the appellations of Aloxe-Corton and Savigny-lès-Beaune. (The domaine has larger holdings of nearly 15 hectares, including the appellation of Pernand Vergelesses, but the remaining hectares are managed by 3 ‘tâcherons’, independently contracted vineyard workers.) It is a sombre, nearly silent time on these slopes; the buzz of the electric pruning scissors the only sound you can hear as you work progressively up the rows of the parcels.
Today we are in Corton, in a grand cru parcel of Bressandes, with the Corton Hill rising languidly upward, crowned by its mass of forest. In springtime and summer, it is bedecked in lush green growth and back-dropped by blue skies, majestic and steadfast, sharing its legacy with the forested hills of the Hautes-Côtes behind neighbouring Pernand Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune.
The Côte de Beaune is a much prettier viticultural landscape than the Côte de Nuits, which while holding the more important of the red appellations and lieu-dits of the Côte-d’Or has a more industrial feel outside of its vineyards.
But even so, in winter, the landscape here is a mottled mix of browns and greys, covered in a perpetual fog or low-lying mist and the days are short.
If you gaze across the horizon during this time, you see plumes of smoke rising up from the brouettes scattered haphazardly amidst the vineyard rows and the figures of the men and women of the vines, backs bent, carrying out their labour, or close to the fires of their brouettes as they burn the canes they pull from the wires; close, as much for the warmth these fires afford as for the labour they undertake with them. The temperature can get down to minus degrees, but also be quite humid, and so it is frigidly cold some days. Compound this with the greyness of the landscape, and it makes for a heavy winter. The fog is a product of both the inclement weather and the smoke emitted from the burning of the canes. A heavy haze of residual smoke settles over the central village of Beaune, and it is only here you find a front-page headline about the polluting effects of this smoke, and whether vignerons have a need to find other methods of disposing of their canes in winter.
We have snapshots of beauty during this time too, when a light cover of snow or frost settles, adding a silver sheen to the otherwise grey scenery, or a day when the sun forces its rays through the bleakness, and bathes the slopes in its golden glow.
Now it is mid March, springtime has begun to spread its life-giving arms, and the sun shines for more than just an occasional day sporadically decided upon. There is the presence of a great biodiversity of life in our biodynamic vineyards, with little flowers beginning to pop up amongst the vines, the webs and cocooned bodies of small spiders nestled in the corners of the canes left on the vine for this year’s growth, ladybirds adding their reds and yellows to the palette of colours. Birds begin to descend on the region, singing their welcome to the changing of the seasons. There is the faint smell of perfume in the air; the blossom trees in the villages are resplendent with fragrant flowers.
The activity in the vineyards has increased, with ploughing and fertilising tractors dotting the landscape with their insectoid presence, and the occasional plough horse. And so I have pruned my last vine, burn my last cane for this season. The sun smiles down on the vineyards of the Côte-d’Or and the next vineyard job begins.
On attach les baguettes. We attach the canes.
By Natalie van den Ham