A Perfectly Natural Retirement

Arrival in Gevrey Chambertin

Jolanta moved to Gevrey Chambertin in January 2010 to start the renovation.  From late Spring onwards, we would see tractors in the village with tall narrow wheels, and tubes protruding in every direction, the sort of machine that could be useful on Mars. In the cockpit, the drivers would often be dressed in space suits. And In this sleepy gentle village, they would hurtle along the lanes towards the vineyards at alarming speeds. Upon arrival, all the tubes would unfurl into protracted arms extending out over several rows of vines. The tractor would then straddle a single row and offload its spray left and right.  In general terms we knew what they were doing - spraying, but spraying with what, against what, and why the need for all this protection?  This is pretty much where it all started. 

Les Deux Chevres

We chose Gevrey Chambertin to start our business, because it was one of the world’s most famous wine villages. Until we arrived however, we did not really appreciate its historical significance.  Together with its neighbouring wine villages, Gevrey is the birthplace of the fine wine business in France. It has been thus since the 7c. It also happens to be in an area of outstanding natural beauty.  So the fact that fine wine was made here without the need for chemicals for 1,500 years, is something else that affected both our thoughts and emotions, while we watched the men in the protective clothing with their spray machines.

Organic Food and Wine

On a personal level, we stopped buying non organic food a long time before moving to France, and pleasingly more and more people in France are taking the same approach. For France is the land where a food and drink philosophy used to be part of every child’s early learning, but which has since embraced intensive farming, and the corresponding use of pesticides, with more gusto than any other country in Europe. And wine making in Burgundy is not exactly intensive farming!

For some organic food produce, you may have to pay a bit more, but can then have confidence in what you and your family are eating. The volume of organic products available is increasing, and the two organic supermarkets where we shop in Dijon, have both recently moved into new and expanded premises, with improved product ranges. For wines, we have a cellar full of wonderful Burgundy made both organically and biodynamically. So it is obviously still possible to make great wine the way it was done for 1,500 years. However the fact that the use of pesticides in French agriculture and winemaking is still increasing, suggests that things are not changing fast enough. In 2006 the government in France launched an initiative aimed at reducing the reliance of farmers on pesticides. Their usage has increased every year since, and is still increasing. Below is a typical chemical vineyard in the beautiful village of Vôsne Romanée, where all natural growth apart the vines has been destroyed by pesticides.

The inactivity of the majority of French vigneron in the face of a generally laudable initiative by the government, tends to confirm that the farmers are not going to be the agent of change - and why should they be, if their conscience does not take them in that direction, who are we to moralise?  Things will change however, as consumers stop buying treated products.  When a large enough number of consumers, for their own particular reasons, lose patience with the status quo - a gradual build up of sentiment, finally blows the lid off the pot. If recounting our story has a particular motive, it is aimed at turning up the gas on the stove a notch or two.