Ploughing by Horse

In my last posting I mentioned a man, Stéphane, who came here from Aquitaine to learn how to plough by horse, and has helped me so much with my French in the evenings.  This morning I walked out into the vineyards to watch the ploughing lesson.  The school has its own vineyard, appellation Beaune, pinot noir, just tucked into the southeast corner of Les Teurons.

First, meet Kélie, the horse, and Stéphane:

I love this photo for giving you a good idea of the size and strength of that horse – Stéphane is I think nearly six foot tall (1.80 metres) – and his instructor, M. Abel Bizouard, is walking behind Kélie and is completely hidden behind her withers.  Also a clear view of the harness, and la griffe – one of the ploughs.

When you plough a vineyard, you actually make four passes down each allée between two rows of vines – first pass, you use la charrue, which looks like a single propeller blade with a severe twist in it, to open the soil along the foot of the left hand row of vines; you turn around at the end and return, cutting open the soil along the right hand row of vines.  For the third and fourth passes you use la griffe which has the four claws, to pass down the middle of the allée and open the soil down the centre, one pass up and then back again.

This picture gives you a look at both types of plough –

Stéphane is holding the handles of the griffe, having just returned from his second pass down the vines, and is preparing to change over to the charrue for the third and fourth passes.  You can see how big that blade is, almost knee high – and the ploughman (or woman – I have seen several working in the Côtes de Nuits) has to lean down hard to keep that in the soil as the horse pulls forward.

Like this – Stéphane just exiting the row after his last pass with the griffe:

When ploughing, the reins – or properly, les guides – are around the ploughman’s neck, though here he is holding them in his hands as well.

Finally, after the work is done, you remove all the tack from the horse and give her a  grooming, and most importantly, clean out her hooves – most good vineyard soil is pretty stony stuff, and Kélie’s hooves were packed solid with soil and pebbles, even though the soil had dried out pretty well after last weekend’s rain.  Again, a good photo to give you a sense of the size of her, but she is docile as a lamb.  Stéphane had commented previously that when he was doing things right she was very co-operative, and when he was attempting to misguide her, she showed great good sense in ignoring him till he got it right.

Postscript

Monday, 22 June 2009

Out walking today, stopped to take a photo of the ploughed vineyard.  It cannot have been easy for either man or beast with all those stones!  The vineyard is also used for tractor practice from the looks of adjacent allées, and Stéphane commented that when a vineyard has been ploughed by tractor for some time it takes repeated ploughings by horse to get the soil back to good open tilth – the tractors compact the soil so very much.