Life in the Loire 29th March 2021

Two turns of the key in the gate and off I go. Just 200 metres up the hill and there I am. Over 2,200 hectares of vines to explore.

Every day I walk through the vineyards. Noizay is one of 8 villages that makes up the Vouvray appellation and some of the best parcels are within a stone’s throw of our house.

Vines as far as the eye can see. Puncuated by the odd landmark here and there (an old abandoned ‘maison des vignes’, a water tower, a patch of woodland), it’s practically impossible to get lost. Dirt tracks and paths weave in and out of the vines and I weave along with them looking around me as I go.

Today the sun is shining brightly and I can feel spring in the air. The sky is big and blue and there’s a gentle breeze. This, in contrast to a couple of weeks ago when it was bitterly cold and the wind was biting not carressing my face.

I think I’m getting a bit fitter as I walk up the hill to reach the plateau. My legs ache but I’m not puffing quite so much as I used to. This daily routine is good for me. It gives me time to think, time to listen, time to observe and time to connect.

That connection with nature has been more important this past year than ever before and I’ve taken great pleasure in just ‘being’.

This morning as I walk past Philippe Chigard’s horses I hear birdsong high above me. I look up and see a Skylark singing, its wings flapping furiously as it fills the air with the sound of spring. It’s hard to believe something so small can produce such a beautiful melody.

First up, a quick coffee with Nigel who’s pruning a parcel for Fred and Louisa of Chateau de Montdomaine. I’m the coffee lady. 5 minutes, a quick chat and off I go on my way leaving him to get on. He’s just a few rows left.

I hear the sound of a tractor in the distance. Pruners leave their prunings (sarments) in small piles between the rows and then a tractor will pass over them to grind them into smaller pieces. Over time they break down into a mulch and give back to the soil. There’s a rhythm as the tractor moves up and down the rows.

Some of the smaller growers burn their prunings as they go along using a small fire that also keeps them warm in the winter months. No need for that today. It’s 19° out there.

I stop for a moment to admire the cowslips, their yellow flowers dotted among the grassy verges along with tiny wild violets and a sea of dandelions. I make a mental note to come back and pick a few leaves to make a salad. It’s wild garlic season too although I haven’t worked out where to look for that yet.

Our French friends in Anjou only showed us their treasured location to find cep mushrooms when they moved house. A closely guarded secret in case everyone went to forage in their spot. Perhaps it’s like that with the Ail de l’Ours (wild garlic).

A few plots of vines remain unpruned. They’re the ones that are most prone to frost. In the hollows and at the bottom of gentle slopes, the’re always the last ones to have their canes cut in preparation for the coming season.

A few bales of straw are appearing at the end of rows. While it’s wonderful to see the vines pushing in the sunshine, the threat of frost is always at the back of the growers’ minds until the end of May. Burning straw provides a veil of smoke that can protect tender buds and shoots from frost damage. It’s a crude system, but few Vouvray growers can afford the luxury of portable tow and blow machines.

As I head towards the abandoned maison des vignes, a cock pheasant skuttles out in front of me. There’s no way he’d go unnoticed with that loud crow.

The path continues briefly along one of the country roads and then I decide to head back down into the valley. As I descend I can hear whistling. Mathieu Cosme’s winery is in front of me and there he is on his fork lift truck, moving wine around from one place to another. There’s the chink of bottles and the sound of laughter as people go about their business happy to have the warm sun on their backs.

A gentle climb back up the hill eventually has me standing in front of a tiny plot owned by friends Philippe and Claude. They call themselves ‘vignerons, jardiniers’ (vine growers and gardeners) and their tiny plots are a pleasure to see. Working in the Vin de France category, they co-plant all manner of fruit, vegetables and herbs in between the rows.

In the summer months we’ll often see Philppe watering the fruit and vegetables at dusk or Claude popping over with a panier to pick a few things for dinner that night. A few haricot beans or new potatoes perhaps, a courgette or two, a handful of herbs.

Cross over the path, down the hill again and I’m home. Refreshed and energised from my walk. Happy to connect with nature and observe what’s going on around me. I feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place surrounded by people that make one of the things I love best – great wine!

As I open the door to the house something stops me in my tracks. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo! That instantly recognisable sound that tells me yes, spring is definitely here.