Natural Plowing

Many people in modern society question natural wine and the unique style of making it. On one hand it’s a very ambiguous term and a lot of speculation goes on around the topic depending on whom you’re asking. If you ask me, I’d say we need direct answers, but I also feel like there will always be a huge and difficult debate about who’s right and who’s wrong.

In this post I want to make sense of the word ‘Nature’ by looking back in history to the time when there was no access or help of engine power, and farmers had no other choice but to rely on farm animals for help in the vineyards. 

Alexandre Bain/Pouilly-Fumé

Alexandre Bain/Pouilly-Fumé

There’s a growing number of winemakers today who have gone back to the ancient methods. These winemakers are the ones that I’d put in the ‘natural wine’ category. These winemakers tend to work with animals on their fields. Are you asking yourself why? Isn’t it more time consuming? I met up with winemaker Alexandre Bain in Pouilly-Fumé who as a kid was always surrounded by animals. This is what he has to say:

D: What’s your relationship to the history of using horses in the field?

A: I’ve used horses since I was a kid (riding and using horse and carriage). To me it was logical to use horses for ploughing because it’s ecological, it benefits the soil and it’s in line with our philosophy.

 Alexandre Bain/Pouilly-Fumé

Alexandre Bain/Pouilly-Fumé

D: How did you get introduced to using horses in your work and at your farm? Did someone inspire you?

A: I started by myself and I bought my first horse the same year, in 2007. Before that, I had the chance to learn a bit from Olivier Cousin towards the end of 2006. Cousin uses horses in the vineyard.

D: What does working with horses offer the farm and the work in the vineyard? Do you see any big changes in the vineyard and are results different when working with a horse?

A: Horses offer me real soil. You can’t get that quality with tractors. Quickly you can feel the soil changing. After the first year it changes a lot already. The soil gets really, really smooth.

D: How does working with a horse connect to your philosophy in terms of the area, Nature and your work?

A: Firstly, I’d say I need to like the horse I work with.  It’s really fun to work with horses (there’s a silence about it, you only hear the earth, you smell only the earth, you can easily see the different colours and you learn more about your terroir). To me it’s also interesting because using horses doesn’t require petrol and doesn’t emit into the atmosphere.é

Sebastian Riffault/Sancerre

Sebastién Riffault/Sancerre

D: What is your vision in using a horse?

A: With the help of horses you get a more personal touch to ploughing old vines or physical soil.

D: Are you the first generation in your history to use horses at your Domaine ?

A: I’m the first.

D: At what time of the year and how often do you use horses?

A: From March to the end of July.

D: Are you returning nutrition to the field by using manure?

A: Yes. Horses eat organic hay and organic barley seeds. Their manure can help give nutrients and more life to the soil.

Alexandre Bain/Pouilly-Fumé

Alexandre Bain/Pouilly-Fumé

D: What’s the best breed of horse for the job? What’s the most comment type of breed of horse?

A: To me the breed Percheron is the best horse to work with, it’s strong and powerful.

D: Why should more winemakers try to use horses rather than machines? How would you encourage more winemakers to think beyond machines?

A: Because it’s easy to see how horses change the quality of soil. Tractors are detrimental to the soil and their effect is horrible.  

In a nutshell, it’s important to care for Nature and make sure it’s healthy during the entire course of the year. The smartest philosophy is to restore its natural strength and to work delicately in the vineyard with the right vision. It isn’t harmful to use horses for the work. Horses have been used in farming for centuries and for all kinds of purposes. It’s a lot better for the soil to work with horses than it is working with tractors. The nutrition and the saved energy horses give are vital for both Nature and the winemaker’s terroir.

Sebastian Riffault/ Sancerre

Sebastién Riffault/ Sancerre

From an economical perspective it’s also a lot cheaper working with a horse, you also make the choice of operating in a much more environmentally friendly way.

Horses are more reliable too, and a living source for positive energy and joy. It’s usually smaller-scale winemakers who work with horses. When the land area they own is smaller, there’s less to plough. It can even be harder with a tractor! Nevertheless, the main reason to do so is to aim for a more sustainable future.

By: Palle / Viniologi   Translated: Edith