The Grand La Grange de Bouys

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I quit my job to go work on a vineyard in the South of France. Sounds glamorous right? Sunshine, fresh air, wine – literally the stuff dreams are made of. Well, it was all that and more. WWOOFing at La Grange de Bouys (GDB) was a dream, for me.

For those of you who don’t know what WWOOFing is, WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. Basically, in exchange for 5 to 6hours of labor per day, the WWOOF host houses, feeds, and teaches you about organic farming. I explain a bit more about WWOOFing here.

At GDB, we WORKED HARD. It was everything I wanted and needed after 10 years in a cube. We worked on so many different projects, I figured it would be best shared in list form:

Week 1 

  • Scrubbed the vine roots in preparation for grafting
    • 6 hours or squatting and scrubbing the trunk of a vine with a metal brush #bunsofsteel
  • Tied baby vines to wooden poles to ensure they grow in the right direction
  • First lesson in dry stone wall building
    • Dry stone wall building is a method by which structures are constructed from stones without any mortar to bind them together. (Wikipedia)
  • Gardening:
    • First lesson in invasive species
    • Treated affected areas with a a natural repellent concoction that included lavender

Week 2

  • Weeding & Gardening
    • Built structures for the new tomatoes
    • Learned about planting according to the lunar cycle and planted tomatoes, green onions, and strawberries
  • First lesson in wine process & sulfates
    • Fun Fact: Almost all wines have some amount of sulfates in them. Sulfites are an additive used to kill wine spoiling bacteria. However, sulfates are also the things that give you the awful wine hangover. All wines have a cap on the amount of sulfites that can be added, but wine makers are not required to add that quantity to the label. Bio or organic wines have much lower limits on the quantity of sulfites that can be added to the wine, however At Grange de Bouys, they are dedicated to using the lowest levels of sulfites, about a third of the limit.
  • Tied & de-budded vines
    • De-budding is where you remove the new growth or “buds” from the vine allowing the existing mature parts of the vine to utilize all the nutrients from the roots. Basically, de-budding keeps the vines tidy, as well as makes sure your grape producing shoots get all the food they need.
  • Sprayed vines with natural compounds to help the leaves with photosynthesis
    • We want those vines happy and healthy!
  • Cleared dead vines 
  • Formal lesson about dry stone wall building
    • Florence gave us the real 411 on the benefits of dry stone walls – preventing erosion is one of the many benefits.

Week 3

  • Put up/down wires
    • This serves various purposes, but putting the vine wires up or down allow the vines to grow in the right direction, protects them from breaking in the wind, and from getting damaged when tractor when it comes through the vine rows.
  • Organic and bio-dynamic hand spray treatment to enrich the vine soil 
    • This helps ensure the soil nutrients aren’t completely depleted by the vines and contributes to creating rich, and bio diverse soil.
  • Gardening: 
    • At GDB, we plant according to the lunar cycle. With the new moon, there were a few optimal days to plant tomatoes, strawberries, and pumpkins.
    • Weeding
  • Clearing brush & hauling pines
  • Re-built a stone wall

Week 4

  • GRAFTING SEASON
    • See more below
  • Weeding
  • Clearing brush/ Pine Trees/ Loading Trailer

Getting Real about Grafting

Graft (ɡrɑːft/) | noun

A shoot or twig inserted into a slit on the trunk or stem of a living plant, from which it receives sap.

Grafting is basically is the process of changing the type of grape a vine stock/root grows.  So if you have a parcel of Grenache and want Syrah, you graft Syrah buds into the root of the existing Grenache plants/vines. Also, fun fact, all French grape varieties had to be grafted onto American grape root stock back in the 19th century. I know this is all a little crazy and confusing, but we’re going to have to go back in time for this to all make sense.

Back in the late 19th century, almost all the wine vines in France were wiped out by a parasite called Phylloxera. While the French were out exploring the Americas, they brought back some American vine stock/roots for some new grape varieties. Along with those roots came Phylloxera, and they killed pretty much all the French wine vines. Luckily, it was discovered that the American root stock/grape plants were resistant to Phylloxera. So, the French wine industry was both destroyed and saved by the American grape roots. The old vinters took buds from the few un-infested french vines and grafted them onto the immune American root stock, et voilà more French grapes!

At GDB, Stephane decided it was time to change things up – so I got to experince the grafting process from beginning to end.

  1. Prepare the vine trunks for the new buds
    • This translates into debarking/scrubbing the bark off.
  2. Cut “T” slits into the prepped part of the trunk and insert new bud. Once the bud is in, it needs to be wrapped up so it stays in place.
  3. Remove all but one vine shoot from the existing plant.
    • This was the physically and emotionally hardest part of the process. We basically had to cut ALL of the vines off the plant, vines that had been tended to, loved, and cared for extensively.
  4. Add poles for the new buds to be tied to
  5. WATER, WATER, WATER…and then water some more

If all goes well and the buds take, within a week you’ll have a new sprout. Once the buds have taken off, you can remove the insurance vine (the one shoot that was left on the plant) and then wait a year for the new plant to produce wine ready grapes.

Grafting isn’t something that happens often, so I was super excited to be involved in the process.

Manual Labor = Peace of Mind

I had two goals for my time at GDB – decompress post 9 to 5 and get back to nature. I got all of that and more. While on the vineyard, I also got a chance to rediscover my love for cooking. Florence, one of the WWOOFing hosts, is an amazing cook. We ate like kings and queens every day. Garden fresh, organic food, simply prepared. Here’s a snapshot of some of the amazing meals we had:

With such an open and welcoming new family, I took the opportunity to share some of my cooking skills – specifically, taking the chance to whip up some desserts.

What now?

My time at GDB ended about a month ago, and I’ve already been back once. If things go well, I’ll go back for the 2019 picking season, so I can see the fruits of our labor – literally.

Not to get too emotional, but my time at GDB not only helped me learn about some of my passions, but also earned me a new family and appreciation for all things organic and bio-dynamic. Florence and Stephane, the owners of GDB, are the most lovely people. They brought me into their family and showed me that when you truly do what you love, you live your best life. I will be forever grateful for Stephane and Florence, and I look forward to helping them create awareness for GDB. So, if you’re reading this blog and enjoyed what I said – give GDB a follow on Instagram @grangedebouys. Hopefully their wine will be available in the US soon.

Au revoir et bonne journee!

Photo cred: Dan Greenberg | IG: @dan_greenberg

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