After a few emails and phone calls to friends in France, we were happy to find a nice, small domaine that was willing to let us work the harvest AND videotape the entire process. Our goal was to better understand the harvest experience at a vineyard that practices biodynamic agriculture. For comparison and research purposes, Director Marcarthur also worked the harvest in a conventional domaine, Domaine Sorine et Fils, in Cheilly-les Maranges, then had one day off before starting the harvest at the organic domaine at Sampigny les Maranges. (To this day, his back still hurts).
In September 2011, we arrived at this lovely domaine in Burgundy called Domaine des Rouges Queues, located in the town of Sampigny les Maranges. Jean-Yves and Isabelle Vantey, the winemakers and owners of Rouges Queues, were incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic about the taping of the harvest. We started on a Saturday and ended on Wednesday. We spent a few hours of each day videotaping among the vines, as well as around the domaine.
Our harvest team was small — eleven cutters and two carriers, including the owner. Among the crew, there were students from Dijon, local residents, a rollerblade skater/videographer, and one comedian who provided a jovial ambiance at all times. Most of the grapes that we picked were pinot noir, as well as chardonnay and aligote. All of the vines were green, surrounded by colorful flowers, as well as a multitude of spiders, and other annoying plants such as thistle and “pignolos”. The grapes were “bien mure” — ripe and full of life, ready to be made into a good wine.
A typical day started at 8am sharp in the vinyards. We paused for a little snack at 9am (chocolate, cheeses, sausisons, fruits, coffee, tea, and of course wine). Worked again until noon, then returned to the domaine for a two hour lunch break. A wonderfully delicious lunch (way too much food!) was prepared each day by Chef Isabel, paired with wines made by Jean-Yves and Isabelle. At 2pm, we worked again in the vineyard, took a small break at 4pm (les quatre heures), and finished by 6pm.
On the third harvesting day, we picked grapes in a small biodynamic parcel located directly next to a conventional section of vines. The contrast between these two agricultural plots of land was starkly evident, as you’ll see on the video clip. One is green, with flowers and a variety of natural weeds living in harmony with the vines, while the other side was completely barren, no weeds, no insects, nothing at all, but these sad vines looking almost dead (reminded us of a desert landscape). We also notice that the soil was packed down almost a foot deeper than the lively organic soil of Rouges Queues. This provided us with one of the best visual examples of the important difference between organic and conventional grapes that are grown using pesticides and herbicides.
It was a real pleasure for us to be part of the Rouges Queues team; each day was full of learning and tasting. We also very much enjoyed the early morning drive through the countryside, from the tiny village of St Sernin du Bois to the town of Sampigny. It was a 30 minute drive via the canal du Centre, which William insisted on taking each morning (but Marcarthur thinks it’s faster via the town of Couch). Driving at 6am through the foggy, cool landscape was refreshing and inspiring, as we watched ancient castles appear and disappear in the distance, miles and miles of vineyards passing by, and nature awaken with the sunrise.
Check out highlights of our adventures in the Harvest video, which includes an interview with Jean-Yves Vantey (in French, apologies to our non-French speakers).
Thanks to Jean-Yves, Isabelle, William, and the entire harvest team at Domaine Rouges Queues.