As I have done in past years, I was in the Faugères wine appellation in the Languedoc region this fall to help my friend Pierre Vidal pick his grapes. Grape-picking here, as throughout France, started two to three weeks later than normal in 2013 because of the slow development of the fruit during the unusually cool spring, followed by a wet early summer that prevented normal flowering.
The delay wasn’t a big problem for Pierre. He doesn’t depend on the grapes for his livelihood, as he teaches Geography at a lycée agricole (a high school for future farmers) several hours away. When the family vineyard was sold over 25 years ago, he only kept several hectares of vines. He recently replanted several other hectares, which he says is for his retirement.
The grapes from his Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carrignan vines are taken to the local winemaking cooperative, as the cellar where his father and grandfather made wine was sold along with the vines. Many who come from winemaking families in the Languedoc have kept a small plot of vines that they tend on weekends or during their vacations. It’s a link, I suppose, to their childhoods and former generations.
Ask any French winemaker what their biggest headache is, and one of the top responses, after the already-mentioned weather and meddling French bureaucrats, is damage caused by wild boars. Despite a nationwide drive to reduce their numbers (wild boars, not bureaucrats) through longer hunting seasons and to stabilize the population by culling young females, the wild boar population continues to rise. They destroy many agricultural crops, but they are especially fond of the sugar and water found in ripe grapes.
While awaiting his grapes to ripen, Pierre tried an anti-wild boar trick that his father and grandfather had used: soaking cotton string in diesel fuel and then erecting it with stakes around his vines. The string is placed approximately 12 inches above the ground—roughly the height of a wild boar nose. It apparently works, as the grapes on the enclosed vines were still there a week later when we went back to harvest them.
A side-effect of the operation was that the clothes I had worn the day that I had helped Pierre to install the boar barrier smelled like a petroleum refinery. Or at least that was what my wife told me when she complained that I had placed them in the dirty clothes hamper with our weekly laundry. I don’t know what all of the complaining was about really, as one of the most popular cologne and perfume fragrances in France is called Diesel. At least that is what I told my three sons when they complained about how their underwear smelled.