His memory may have faded slightly, but René Pédebernade, a true vigneron in the Saint Mont appellation, dedicated his life to the 12-ha (30-acre) family domain, almost to his passing at the age of 86 in 2013.
The dedicated retiree lived in the house where he was born his entire life, and together with his loving wife and family tended 12 rows of vines, some 600 in total, that have been bringing grapevine researchers from throughout France to his small village of Sarragachies in the foothills of the Pyrenees – gleaning the secrets of vines past, to safeguard their future.
These gnarled vines, some as thick around as Pédebarnade’s waist, have something in common with Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. They are classified as a French Monument Historique,surviving the devastating Phylloxerra epidemic by their surrounding sandy soils.
Researchers estimate that the vines were planted between 1800 and 1830, meaning that eight generations of the Pédebarnade family have been tending them, and still continue to do so to this day. The estate is now run by his son Jean-Pascal, using traditional methods of cultivation.
Vinyards in jeopardy
In the mid-1800’s the phylloxera plague, a root-destroying louse from America, eradicated virtually all the vineyards in Europe.
These ungrafted vines survived on their own roots, instead of the phylloxera-resistant American root-stock that saved Europe’s vineyards because they are planted in ten meters of sand. Making them invincible to the pest, which uses tunnels to travel underground. Tunnels built in such soft, sandy soil collapse immediately.
Producteur Plaimont helped Rene bring the vines back into production and are now producing pre-phylloxera wines in very limited quantities. These unique wines are only available “on allocation” and Aquitaine Wines has obtained a small number of bottles for Club Members.
Manual harvesting is the hand-picking of grape clusters from the grapevines. In the United States, some grapes are picked into one- or two-ton bins for transport back to the winery. Manual harvesting has the advantage of using knowledgeable labor to not only pick the ripe clusters but also to leave behind the clusters that are not ripe or contain bunch rot or other defects. This can be an effective first line of defense to prevent inferior quality fruit from contaminating a lot or tank of wine.