Women versus boars

Could they pick the grapes before thirsty swine broke through the electric fences?


Vineyard manager and winemaker Wendy Paille (second on left) finishes harvesting Le Soula’s grapes in the mountains of Roussillon in mid-October

Women versus boars
  • Chris Boiling
  • 2019-11-05
‘The drought drove them to ravage the vineyard in search of the moisture contained in the grapes'
The race was on. Wild boars, thirsty from another record-breaking summer heatwave, had acquired a taste for the white grapes in Le Soula’s vineyards, high up in the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees in south-west France.
They had burst through the electric fences in the run-up to the picking season and decimated the Marsanne, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc. Up to 50% of the white varieties had been stripped from the vines.

Red grapes
Le Soula’s Syrah had also been attacked.
Vineyard manager and winemaker Wendy Paille and her team of pickers had to get the rest of the reds in before the boars returned.
“Harvesting had to be brought forward to beat the boar to the grapes,” Wendy confirmed. But she insists the quality will not be affected: “The last of the old vine Carignan came in at a potential 13 degrees, which is pretty respectable,” she said, explaining: “It was very resistant this year. We managed to push the maturity and have had maceration up to almost three weeks on the skins. The juice is expressing lovely aromas of fruit and flowers.
“We lost a high percentage of our Marsanne and Roussanne, eaten by the boar, as our four-wire electric fencing was clearly not a strong enough deterrent. And we lost 1ha of young Sauvignon Blanc and over half of the rest of the white varieties. But the volume and quality of the remaining grapes are very good.

‘Fencing against 180-kilo boar with a raging thirst is almost impossible’
“July saw temperatures in the Roussillon reach 40 degrees, although Le Soula’s high altitude vineyards and cooling mountain breezes allowed the vineyard to escape the worst of the extreme weather. While the vines didn’t suffer too badly from the heat, the local wild boar population grew thirsty, and the drought drove them to ravage the vineyard in search of the moisture contained in the grapes. Fencing against 180-kilo boar with a raging thirst is almost impossible.”

Le Soula’s grapes are grown in Roussillon’s highest altitude vineyards, 45km west of Perpignan. At 350 to 660 metres above sea level, the heat of the southern sun is mitigated by the cold and rain of the mountains, and the temperate effects of the Tramontane and Mistral winds.
The vineyards are worked biodynamically in widely spread parcels, with the oldest vines dating back to 1919. There are 10 hectares of white grapes, with local varieties like Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Gris, and Malvoisie du Roussillon, plus imported varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino. Le Soula also has 12ha of red varieties, including the traditional Carignan and Grenache Noir, and the non-native Syrah imported for cooler sites.
“We respect the rhythms of nature, working within the lunar cycle,” Wendy said. “We allow the phases of the moon to influence when we apply treatments or carry out essential work in the vineyards, and we think this has helped us in this difficult harvest.”

'Biodynamic viticulture is increasing the quality of our wines'
Co-owner Mark Walford added: “I believe that our policy of biodynamic viticulture is increasing the quality of our wines. Biodynamics allow us to reach full phenolic ripeness earlier and therefore with less sugar, resulting in lower alcohol levels and better acidity.
“In the cellar so far we are seeing a slow fermentation – or not at all – for the malolactic. We picked early to save the fruit. Generally we will see low alcohol on the whites.”

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