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Ancient French vines given heritage status

A plot of 200-year-old French vines has just been classified a Monument Historique, the first time a vineyard has been awarded the distinction.

‘A remarkable example of genetic resilience’: Jean-Pascal and René Pédebernade

The vines, dating to between 1800 and 1830, are located in AOC Saint-Mont in the Gers, and cover an area of 2,000 square metres.

They are pre-Phylloxera vines which have not been grafted onto American rootstock, as is normal practise today.

Part of a 12-hectare estate near the village of Nenin, the classified vines belong to 85-year-old René Pédebernade.

The estate is now run by his son, Jean-Pascal, but René still looks after this oldest plot, using traditional methods of cultivation. The vines grow on sandy soil, explaining how they survived the Phylloxerra epidemic.

Some are arranged in both perpendicular and parallel directions rather than one single line, a method of cultivation that was abandoned in the late 19th century, and was designed to allow oxen to move easily around the rows.

There is a mix of 20 red and white grape varieties, including Tannat, Fer Servadou, Muscadelle, and seven varieties not previously classified, which have been baptised Pédebernade 1 to 7 in honour of their owner.

‘The vines are a remarkable example of biodiversity and genetic resilience,’ Eric Fitan, director of the Wine Bureau of Saint-Mont told Decanter.com, ‘and also provide us with a crucial link back to how vines were cultivated in the days before Phylloxera.’

The grapes from the main estate are sent to local cooperative Producteurs Plaimont – run by André Dubosc, a long-term supporter of forgotten grape varieties, who runs a vine conservatory in Saint Mont and pays his cooperative members a premium for looking after any old, rare plots of vines.

The coop may now create a special cuvée from these vines to celebrate the distinction. ‘But the key thing is to assure the survival of these vines, and learn from them,’ said Fitan. ‘They are not just about our past, but provide clues for the future direction of our vineyard also, and the development of grape varieties which reflect our heritage and terroir.’

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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