A vineyard in winter

I’ve been exchanging e-mails with Tom Lubbe at Matassa, this fall, and it has only reminded me of how much work there is to do in a vineyard after harvest is done, and after the wines have been laid to rest in the barrels, to mature over winter through secondary fermentation and all.

In late October, it is time to spray the vineyards with preparation 500, the most important biodynamic treatment, seen as essential in building up soil life, made from manure and compost that have spent winter underground in cow horns. Then there is the liming of the vineyards, which increases the soil’s pH and can compensate, among other things, for the effects of chemical fertilizers before conversion to biodynamics. Compost must also be added to nourish the soil, cover crops must me mowed and then, new ones sowed for the coming year: they help keep moisture in the ground and increase the diversity and vitality of the vineyard ecosystem. “All good clean fun”, wrote Tom.

After that, when winter sets in and the vines are dormant, it’s time to prune them, in order to control growth and limit the amount of fruit that will be borne – an essential part of controlling yields and getting any quality out of the grapes. It’s also time to clean up the vineyards, take out stones and do other sorts of maintenance. Under the howl of the tramontane winds rushing down the mountains, as the highest peaks cover up in snow, that can be cold, hard work. “All good, honest toil”, wrote Tom.

Indeed, there is something deeply satisfying in taking active part in the life cycle of a vineyard, in the physical effort that will lead to the production of good wine, to the expression of what a particular patch of earth and sky has to offer.

I’m a little envious, as I sit at home and get the easy bit: tasting the wines. Like the cuvée Marguerite 2006, made from 50% viognier and 50% muscat à petits grains. The cuvée is named after Marguerite Sol, Nathalie Gauby’s maternal grandmother (Nathalie is Tom’s wife) who lived most of her life in a lovely little house right on the village square in Calce.


Marguerite Sol’s house in Calce’s village square.

The wine is still very young and settling into its own. Its remarkable mineral notes, its tightly wound structure, the aromas of viognier and muscat that rise through when oxygen has opened up the wine over a few hours, all that is quite lovely and promising. I just have to let the other bottles settle for a while – a year, at least, more if I have the patience. Cheers to Matassa, and to good, honest toil.

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