After the great years of 1947 and 1949, the Anjou vineyard entered an average decade. For two decent years: 1953, 1955, there were four average years: 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, and three very small years: 1951, 1956 and 1958.
It should be remembered that in those days, small years really were small.
Malolactic fermentation was still discussed by a good number of red wine producers. It was out of the question for white wines: neither the principle nor the practice allowed it.
The winegrower from Angers saw his customers abandon it. Wine lovers rejected the white wines offered to them. If they were dry, they found them too acidic. If they were sweet, because they were not as good as the archetypal 1947 or 1949.
The market for white wines was at a standstill.
The vine itself was not much better. The winter frosts of February 1956 had in some areas decimated the vineyards. After 1955, a second spring frost dashed hopes of a harvest on the morning of 8 May 1957.
This period had other characteristics. It was the end of the era of the horse in the vineyard and machinery posed many problems. Wheeled or tracked tractors?
Inter-row tractors or straddle tractors? What to choose? Wouldn't the power of ploughing lead to increased erosion on the hillsides? What about soil compaction with these heavy machines? Was it wise to use a tractor to treat the soil? Wouldn't the chemical products sprayed be harmful to the mechanics?
Sulphur and Bordeaux mixture still reigned in the primary soils of Anjou, continuing an almost age-old process of harmful acidification.
Informed of the work undertaken in Gironde around 1952 by the CETA (Centre d'Études Techniques Agricoles) of Cadillac, presided over at the time by Mr. Jean PERROMAT (brother of Mr. Pierre PERROMAT, former president of the INAO), the winegrowers of Anjou also met in CETA.
For each cultural problem, a solution was considered and tested...
1. Avoid spring frosts.
Therefore, establish the fruit line at a higher level: 1.10 m.
2. Restore the soil structure by planting grass.
Therefore, plan a sufficient spacing between rows so that the grass does not encourage spring frosts by being too close to the buds.
Often the double row spacing was chosen: 3.40 to 4.00 metres. The grass growth should recreate a living biological environment and increase the humus in the soil. The mineral fertiliser will be used to make the grass grow and provide a living environment and humus over the years.
3. Keep the possibilities of traditional manuring.
One row in two is grassed. This allows fertiliser or even manure to be added to the ploughed row.
4. Avoid soil compaction:
The grassed row is ploughed every 3 years. The grassing is done with an Italian ryegrass, with a very divided root system. When it is destroyed by ploughing, the decomposition of the roots plays the role of a subsoiler.
5. Benefit from a load-bearing row spacing regardless of the weather.
The grassed row fulfils this role. It allows treatment immediately after rain (we are in an oceanic climate) or after a heavy storm.
6. Have a driving style that is conducive to motorisation.
A wide gauge allows the use of ordinary agricultural equipment.
The same stability can be achieved with a normal wheeled tractor as with a narrow tracked tractor. In case of vineyards with scattered plots. The wheeled tractor has a major advantage over the tracked tractor: it can travel on the road.
7. Working with maximum safety, which is a must if you employ people.
At that time, vineyards with a spacing of 1.70 m were trellised to a wire.
Without a slope corrector, the straddle tractor gave its driver the opportunity to dominate the vineyard, but not always its fear.
The vineyard tractor with caterpillar tracks, which was very expensive to buy and maintain, was safer. But for a scattered vineyard, not very practicable, we saw it.
The wide vineyard allowing a motorization with a normal wheelbase tractor was a solution.
It was therefore around the 1960s that wide vines were introduced in the vineyards of Anjou.
At that time, the promoters did not only want to add modern knowledge and technology to their way of cultivating vines, but to integrate them into a coherent and logical way of conducting business, which proved to be different from the existing system.
It was "a new vineyard" that was being established.
It was regarded with curiosity. It had its moment of fame in the media and in professional wine circles. Because it was a global system - a true philosophy of vine cultivation - it required its followers to reconsider their entire behaviour with regard to the vine. Its expansion was therefore very moderate. The step to take to access this system was really a big step! There were particular plot trials, but they often forgot one of the essential points of the reform. This only half satisfied the users.
And then came the weeding!
Around 1970, weedkillers, by leading to the practice of non-cultivation, in turn allowed the use of heavy implements, even in wet periods. They did away with ploughing: the tractor became a simple treatment vehicle.
While the wide vines were a global system of questioning cultivation practices requiring in-depth reflection and a certain mastery of the trade, weed control was a simple technique. Moreover, it was all the easier to practise as it was abundantly popularised by weed killer manufacturers.
The progression of wide vines was halted. In some cases, the same weed control was applied to them as to narrow vines and it is certain that among the winegrowers who had only considered the mechanisation aspect, for example, a certain number regretted having allowed themselves to be led to the uprooting of one row in two.
Complete weed control, by favouring a root system close to the soil, i.e. in the immediate action zone of superficial fertilisers, undoubtedly destabilises the vine in relation to its deep terroir. This impact on the production of an AOC wine is perhaps more important than the notion of density taken in isolation. But no one was concerned about it. This easy solution was happily welcomed.
It is rather from the ecologists that the criticism came:
accumulation of products in the soil, inversion of flora and destruction of the natural environment. In recent years, there has been an increase in the reluctance to use weed control.
The grass cover provided by wide vines does not have the negative aspects of weed control. On the contrary.
After the extension of the weeding, only those who believed in the system remained in the running: a core of "faithful".
For 20 years, they have been observing the results, keeping abreast of the trials undertaken here and there. By visiting the world, where the competition is already today, they realised that France was one of the few countries to have remained with a mode of cultivation of the past while the whole environment had changed. Their objective was not to produce AOC wine at the lowest cost and in the greatest quantity. They sought progress.
1. Gap :
For wide vines, the results obtained not only in the experimental fields and by Mr Remoué, Engineer at the INRA Viticultural Station in Montreuil-Bellay at that time, but also in full-scale experiments in private vineyards (about 1000 hectares) led winegrowers to stabilise the spacing between each row at three metres.
In Anjou, this spacing is sufficient and necessary for the establishment of grass cover without secondary effects, for the passage of equipment with a normal wheelbase providing both safety for the personnel and normal operating costs for the producer. This is not an arbitrary standard. It is the result of decades of study of the problem.
2. The height :
Because there were practically no spring frosts between 1957 and 1981, and in order to be at the same level as the old vines, the height of the fruiting branches was lowered. For the Chenins, in particular, the height was automatically set at 50/55 cm.
3. Distance :
The distance to be chosen should be essentially linked to the vigour of the vines. This depends on the grape variety, the rootstock, the richness of the soil, etc... It can be chosen according to the pruning and trellising system and, apart from limit tests, can be between 70 cm and 1.20 m, depending on the situation.
It should not be forgotten that in viticulture, control of the plot of land is essential. For quality, it is there, at the plot level, that the choice of techniques is made in the first place. It is here that the distance between vines must be decided.
It seems that the distance on the row can in many situations (particularly in the poor soils of the Anjou hillsides) be reduced to 0.80 metres on the row, or even 0.70 metres, without this leading to overcrowding of the vegetation, if the trellising is adequate.
A distance of 0.70 metres on the row combined with a spacing of 3 metres between rows leads to a density of 4,760 vines per hectare.
4. Trellising :
The aerial arrangement of the vegetation quickly attracted the attention of the winegrowers of Anjou.
Through life-size experiments conducted over decades, they learned that the spacing and density of plantation were only elements of "plantation geometry" and that the notion of "useful exposed leaf surface" had to be linked to it. It was the remarkable work of Alain CARBONNEAU, an INRA researcher at the Bordeaux Vine Institute, that brought these important elements to light.
Before this was formulated by the INRA (National Institute of Agronomic Research), the winegrowers of Angers had the intuition that this thesis was good and would improve the quality of the wine, by developing trellising.
The leaves are the workers of the vine and the winegrowers in wide vines spread them out more and more in the sun and air.
A leaf area of more than 6000 square metres per hectare (Carbonneau) is an objective that can be reached thanks to trellising exceeding 2 metres in height, which is commonly practised here.
5. Weed control.
Last but not least, in an oceanic climate, is the regulation of water available to the vine through the control of grass cover. It is enough to gyro-cultivate the grass to compensate for the effects of a prolonged drought. Or, on the contrary, to let it develop to compete with the vine and thus allow water control, which can intervene in the phenomenon of sugar migration towards the grapes.
In conclusion, it can be said that from the beginning, the winegrowers with wide vines have remained within the framework of the production of AOC wine. Whether it be in the areas of delimitation, grape varieties or yields.
If their research has led them to adopt a wider spacing, it is not with the aim of increasing yields or changing the expression of the terroir through the wine produced. The wine from their production has always been a credit to the AOC: the awards obtained in competitions - at all levels - prove this.
On the contrary, with the long term they have been able to improve the structure of the soil, restoring it to a sufficient biological and agronomic potential.
They know that the heritage they have received has not only been maintained but increased.
They have ensured the sustainability of the AOC vineyards they have been responsible for.
They feel that they have been "faithful" to the AOC wine by pursuing an essential objective of the AOC: the MAINTAINING of the wine-growing land.
2. Our position
Let's go back half a century.
In 1953, Jean BAUMARD prepared for a certificate in Agricultural Chemistry and Oenology at the Bordeaux Faculty of Sciences and took courses with Professors Louis GENEVOIS and Jean RIBEREAU-GAYON.
On the same benches, a young chemical engineer turned winemaker, René MAZEAU, is his friend. In Targon, he managed a magnificent property in the Entre Deux Mers: Toutigeac, and two years later, he became part of the CETA Viticole mentioned above, at the beginning of the History.
This is the link to the new way of managing high and wide vines.
Since 1958, our vineyard has adopted this system of management. No one has been able to explain or scientifically prove that it is less good for quality than the system inherited from the horse era.
However, since Pierre PERROMAT left the presidency of the INAO, we have been under almost constant pressure to abandon it.
It is a phenomenon similar to that of "rumour".
It is spread by a certain number of winegrowers and technicians, sometimes very influential or very high up in the administrations or professional bodies.
Secondary wine education is usually (and primarily) against it. At best, it does not talk about it.
The arguments put forward have never been convincing. One of the most heard is based on the negative effect that the system could have on the vineyard landscape. This is inaccurate but always produces a simple rejection effect on the listener. Yet our vineyards are sought after by photographers.
In any case, there has never been a scientific consensus that our way of doing things is less rewarding than the 19th century system.
Better still, if we read the realistic studies of the Burgundian winegrowers who have adopted it, we realise that HLVs are the most adapted to sustainable development, which is one of the objectives of our time.
For our part, we worked to defend it when the "Anjou Villages" decree was published, which ultimately eliminated vines with a spacing of more than 2 metres between rows from the benefit of this new red wine appellation. An appeal was lodged with the Conseil d'Etat, which repealed the decree on the grounds of a formal defect. The INAO hastened to have it promulgated a second time, but a Commission came to take into account our complaints and resulted in a decree of 2 December 1996, which should have put an end to this offensive against high and wide vines for the Anjou region.
Less than seven years later, with a decree creating a new Anjou appellation, with a Cru mention, the problem was once again resolved in a dogmatic (or doctrinaire, as the case may be) manner by the INAO. Any vine wishing to claim this AOC must have a minimum planting density of 4500 vines per hectare.
This excludes high and wide vines.
Let us hope that the UNION NATIONALE DES VIGNES HAUTES ET LARGES, which was created in the spring of 2003 and which groups together more than 40,000 hectares of vines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Jura and Anjou, will carry enough weight to ensure that an entire vineyard is not rejected in the wine-producing world of France, or even in the outer darkness, under the pretext of a "doctrine" that is unfounded in agronomic terms.
With the help of the media, a current of opinion should be established so that the French quality vineyard can benefit from progress as much as the other vineyards around the world that are our competitors.