14 June 2021

WORKING THE VINEYARD SOIL TO REVEAL GREAT WINES

The careful transformation of a set of meadows in Nantoux in the Hautes Côtes de Beaune into a vineyard was an opportunity for the Domaine Leflaive team to implement a variety of best practices in vineyard management.

Each soil, whether agricultural or viticultural, is a volume organized in layers (in French, the horizons) with its own properties that must be taken care of when working on a vineyard.

This plot was first occupied by horses, which allowed us to observe its seasonal behavior. It is situated at an altitude between 325m and 360m and oriented East-Northeast. The western part, with sparse vegetation, bushes and low hedges indicated outcropping rock veins. This part has been preserved in order to enrich the biodiversity. The central part, in grassland, allowed some good hay crops to be harvested, which led to the conclusion that the soil drains at surface level and retains water underground. The eastern part, which is steeper, contained bushes and in many places, large trees (oaks, locust trees, even a white poplar) which indicate a greater depth of soil and an unconstrained capacity for growth.

An initial diagnosis was made with Yves Hérody on the suitability of the location for vines. We quickly decided to limit the vineyard area to the central meadow, whose soil and subsoil were suitable for vines, while keeping a large portion of fallow land, hedges, and trees to favour biodiversity. We even planted several truffle trees... Is this the beginning of a complementary vocation?

We then decided to go further in exploring the different soil horizons and to draw up a detailed soil and subsoil map with Françoise Vannier and Emmanuel Chevigny (Adama). Nine different types of soil have been identified, in a mosaic on the plot of land, five of which are in today's vineyard. Each soil has been described precisely and has enabled us to adapt the preparation work according to the characteristics of each.

It was only after two years of research and consideration that we embarked on the soil preparation work with two guiding ideas.

The first was to preserve the existing ecosystem as much as possible. It was only necessary to cut two groves of Austrian black pine, an exotic species with no ecological interest. The planting of truffle species and indigenous species (corm trees, bird's-eye sorb, hazel trees, etc.) has more than compensated for this cutting.

The second one was to preserve the horizontal and vertical organization of the soil where we intended to plant the vines. We wanted to preserve the natural organization of the site while improving the support for vines. The priority was to maintain these physical qualities by not turning over the horizons and by keeping these layers deep. We therefore applied a simple farming method by taking the surface soil that had accumulated at the bottom of the slopes and bringing it up to the upper parts, where it was lacking.

The subsoil horizons identified with Françoise Vannier and Emmanuel Chevigny had shown that they were often made up of a stack of horizontal plates, or polyhedral stones arranged horizontally. The vine's roots can easily penetrate these piles in search of water and minerals. It was important to keep this pile as rainwater, which can be retained in hollows on the surface of the stones and constitutes an important reserve, even after long periods of drought.

Once the topographic preparation was done, we started the agronomic preparation of the soil, which lasted two seasons. The objective of this phase is to provide the soils with the elements necessary for the growth of the vine during the first 5 years with an amendment of home-made sanitized manure (30 tons/ha) and to revitalize the life of the soils with a new meadow rich in leguminous plants. These plants provide a natural green manure that we also use in the Puligny vineyards.

Once the green manure was planted and developed, we scratched the surface to a depth of 30 cm, without ever going down to the subsoil stones. This clawing allows the roots of the meadow to dig deeper and allows us to remove the surface stones. These stones have been removed from the plot to create ''meurgers'' (little walls created by vignerons).

At no point did we use a stone crusher, as we felt that this operation was too destructive and did not allow us to preserve the qualities of our soils, particularly having a low level of active limestone and a good capacity to retain water reserves.

After a year and a half of grassland, in the autumn of 2020, we destroyed the leguminous plants and used a mechanical digging machine to prepare the soil for planting. This took place in February 2021 with the help of a small GPS-guided lightweight caterpillar.


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