I spotted some fantastic photos recently of a mule working the vines (taken by J-P Lamarque) at Domaine de Chevalier whilst the horses were resting. You can find a selection of photos of the mule in the vineyards on their blog here and they are hoping to make a video soon which they will also post.
Domaine de Chevalier have been working with horses on 5 hectares and will observe the changes in these plots over the coming years. By using horse power the chateau can lessen the impact of its carbon footprint. Also the horses don’t compress the soil as tractors do and don’t damage the roots of the vines.
You can also find horses at Chateau La Lagune in the Haut Médoc, Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac Leognan (there is a picture of Jamaïque, the draft horse at Pape Clement at Bernard Magrez’s Blog here) and Chateau Pontet Canet in Pauillac.
The horses used at Pontet Canet are Bretons – an ancient breed which have great strength and durability. The original ancestors of the Breton were a population of horses that that lived in the Breton mountains, possible descended from steppe horses ridden by Celts.
They were used during Medieval times as military horses, partly because of their comfortable gait, which was said to be partway between a brisk trot and an amble. They have a quiet and careful nature and are ideal for working in the vineyards. Alfred Tesseron told Juel Mahoney that they were once used as Postal horses to deliver the mail. You can read about Pontet Canet and the horses in this article by the Independent.
I began to wonder if horses were being used in other parts of the world and am grateful to Juel Mahoney and to The Fine Wine Academy who helped me in trying to find out what countries were using horsepower.
Juel writes Wine Woman & Song about wine and the wine trade in London and Vinissmia on Italian wine from a London perspective and The Fine Wine Academy offers training, professional development and research projects to wine, culinary and hospitality professionals.
Thanks to Juel’s many friends on Twitter I found out that horses are being used in Italy, Sicily, Spain and Austria. Sara Porro (a media communications consultant & amateur blogger over at Dissapore.com, based in Milan, Italy) said that Forteto della Luja in Northern Italy use horses to work the vineyards.
Forteto della Luja lies in Loazzolo, Piedmont, in the Langa Astigiana area, between Alba, Acqui Terme and Asti and is an organic vineyard, owned by the Scaglione Family. It’s so untouched that the World Wildlife Federation has designated it as a “biodiversity oasis.”
Because the hills are so steep, it is impossible for a tractor to climb during the vendemmia (harvest) so the family use Amadeus. Amadeus is a Haflinger, which is a breed from Austria. He is one of two draft horses that do all the ploughing in the vineyard. The horses climb the near vertical slopes and also carry the grapes up to the top of the hill.
Donkeys are used along the Amalfi coast due to the slopes according to Robbin Gheesling. Robbin is the owner of Vineyard Adventures – a wine and culinary tour company whose tours are led by sommeliers, wine experts and chefs. The Amalfi Coast runs alongside the sea with vineyards perched high on the cliffs.
The villages and the terraces of vines are built on small patches of land reclaimed from the rock – in some instances the terraces are no more than five metres wide. In the hamlet of Noche, donkeys replace cars as transport!
The Il Palazzone winery in Montalcino said that Casa Raia have completed a course for “cavalli da lavoro” (working horses) and in the process of implementing it. Casa Raia sits on a promontory beneath the famed medieval town of Montalcino and is owned by Pierre Jean Monnoyer and his wife Kalyna. The vineyards have been restored and they are producing bio dynamic wines.
Gianluca Morino of the Cascina Garitina estate in Piedmonte Italy within the heart of the in high Monferrato area recalls seeing horses in the vineyards in Spain as do Vinos Ambiz, producers of organic wine from their vineyards in Carabaña and Villarejo, near Madrid.
Hande Leimer of Vino Roma, who organise wine tastings in Italy, has reported that there are vineyards in Friuli, Sicily and Austria who work with horses in the vineyards. The Jermann estates in Friuli (which is sandwiched next to the Slovenian border in the North East corner of Italy, is worked by horses.
It’s good to see that horsepower – as well as mules and donkeys – has made a come back into the vineyard. It seems that most of the estates using them are organic or bio dynamic and that they are in the Old World. There must be other vineyards out there who are turning back the clock and using horses . . . does anyone know of any more?