Slumbering in the hazy winter sunshine of a mid January Sunday afternoon, is the wine village of Vôsne Romanée. This mythical place, rich in history, blessed with a unique terroir, is the birthplace of some of the world’s most sought after, and correspondingly expensive wines.
Winemaking in Vôsne was founded by the monks of St Vivant in the 12C. The monks lived on the Hill of Vergy, 10km from Vôsne, and the route they followed is now marked out and known as the ‘Chemin des Moines’ ‘The Path of the Monks’. There is a plaque on the property where they took their harvests, paying homage to this illustrious history.
Many of the vineyards in Vôsne are farmed biodynamically. This immaculately tended vineyard of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has furrows between the vine rows. They were ploughed in December. The soil is piled up against the base of the vine to provide additional protection to the root system for the cold winter months. Ploughing aerates the soil and encourages the decomposition of inert matter, which in turn provides nutrients to feed the vine. At the same time, lateral roots are severed by the plough, encouraging the main roots to go deeper into the strata, contributing depth, originality and complexity to the wine.
At the other end of the spectrum, are the acres of vineyards still farmed in what is euphemistically described as a ‘traditional’ manner, but 'chemically' would be a more apposite description. The use of herbicides has killed off vegetal growth between the rows. Tractors have compacted the ground, and instead of ploughing, artificial fertilisers are spread on the surface, which discourages the roots from penetrating deeper, and further damages the micro organisms in the soils where the roots are feeding. The immune system of the vines is weakened, so protection from pests and fungi is obtained by the use of pesticides and fungicides, adding more chemicals to the soils. The wines produced from such a vineyard tend to be lacking in fruit and vitality, with no individuality or connection to the terroir.
Vineyards like this can sadly still be seen all along the Côte. It just seems more striking when the plot happens to be alongside the ‘Chemin des Moines’!