April Frost, Syrah Planting and Sanglochons (Piglets) at Domaine Mirabeau

As you may have seen in the news, early April France was devastated by the worst spring frost in decades. The frost came after a spell of unseasonably warm weather that sped up plant growth. France experienced several nights of sub-zero temperatures, as low as -6°C, across several thousand hectares of farming land, including major wine regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhône Valley, as well as here in Provence, that led to vineyards being blanketed in damaging frosts. The French government has declared the incident an “agricultural disaster”.

In a bid to ward off the frosts last week, farmers across France lit thousands of candles and paraffin heaters near their vines to keep the air warm, with some even resorting to low-flying helicopters.

Jeany and Stephen, like farmers across France, were devastated by the impact the frost had on the vines, and are crossing their fingers and toes that some of the vines are able to recover and bear fruit.

Initially we thought this would be what we call a “white frost” which means a frost that occurs when there is rapid heat loss from the earth’s surface to the sky due to a lack of cloud cover. So we arranged for Pascal, Thierry and George (Jeany and Stephen’s son) to come to the Domaine at 4am to burn wet straw in order to produce smoke, creating a cloud that would hopefully retain the warmth. Unfortunately this frost was a “black frost” resulting in a huge cold air mass that we weren’t able to stop despite the smoke we created. It is difficult to evaluate the amount of crop we lost at Domaine Mirabeau because we don’t know yet if the new shoots that will grow will succeed in holding fruit. Sadly it looks like we’ve lost around 70% of the buds that were breaking.

Viticulturalist Clément explains what happened on Domaine Mirabeau the night of 8th April

Planting Syrah

In more positive news in the vines, our farmer Anthony has been working over the last few months to prepare a parcel of land (0.6 hectares with very poor soil quality) where vines have historically struggled to grow. Anthony removed the vines that weren’t growing successfully, did deep ploughing and passed a rotary harrow. This process softens the soil to help baby vine roots grow. This month Pascal and team planted 3,000 Syrah vines, a great addition to the other varieties we grow on the domaine (Rolle, Granache and Cinsault), which if the vines grow successfully will add complexity to future Domaine wines.

NB: We’ll be launching our 2020 vintage of the Domaine wine in next month’s newsletter. We can’t wait to share it with you.

Adorable Piglets and Zoe, the goat

Ben and Bea were delighted to discover that our Domaine sow Frankie had delivered nine tiny healthy piglets one-night early April! By now the little ones are already very active and are nursing well. Mummy pig has so much patience with them, when they fight with each other to get most of the milk. 

The father was an intruder from the forest, so our piglets are mixed wild boar and pig. In French we call them Sanglochons (Sanglier (wild boar) + Cochon (pig)). Wild boar are ancestors of the domestic pig, so a crossbreed between the two is possible. We’re sure you’ll agree that the results are absolutely adorable. 

Another new arrival is our four-year-old dwarf goat Zoe. She is sharing an enclosure with the two alpacas, Vince and Pablo, and is already very comfortable in her new home. Besides being very cute she brings other benefits to the Domaine: her love of eating plants we consider weeds. Goats are browsers rather than grazers. This means they eat mainly leafy plants and shrubs rather than grasses. Goats are used in this capacity for fire prevention, managing invasive weeds on the land and creating effective fire breaks. Also, in areas where brush and brambles choke the streams, goats clear out the mass of vegetation without damaging the riparian ecosystem.

The Bees are Back!

One morning back in March, beekeeper Philip Prior returned to the Domaine with 12 beehives, to enrich the biodiversity at the Domaine.  Philip has agreed to install the hives at our Domaine, because we do not use any artificial pesticides or fertiliser for our vines or the domaine gardens. We are more than happy to support our bee population by offering them ground for nourishment. Bees are incredibly important as 80% of what we eat has been pollinated by bees!

Each beehive holds around 15,000 bees to begin with. This adds up to a total of 180,000 bees. Over the next three months the bees are free to buzz about Domaine Mirabeau and the Plaine des Maures and do what they do best: pollinate and reproduce. By the end of June the bee population will have at least doubled to 30-40,000 bees per hive. Each bee flies within a radius of 4km around their home, the hive, and visits about 150 flowers a day. So, if you do the calculation: our Domaine bees will be pollinating a minimum of 2,250,000 flowers per day!

The favourite local flowers of the honeybee here in the Provence are heather, mustard flowers, lavender and other herbal plants like sage, mint, coriander, thyme, oregano, etc. They also enjoy fruit trees and vegetables like tomatoes and aubergine and are very welcome visitors in our potager.

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