There was an extraordinary story in both the Torygraph and the Grauniad this week about one of the world’s greatest wine estates being blackmailed by some chap who threatened to poison the precious vines. The dastardly villain, who must be a bunch short of a full basket, tried to extract €1 million from Aubert de Villaine, the co-director of Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy, and to prove his evil intentions he nobbled a priceless Pinot. Monsieur de Villaine, who was named recently by Decanter magazine as their ‘Man of the Year’, managed to trap the plonker with the aid of the local gendarmes and a stash of false banknotes.
Four years ago, I thought we had a similar situation on our hands at Bauduc when I found a row of young vines (above) which looked for all the world like they’d been poisoned. Over 100 recently planted Sauvignon Blanc vines had died in mysterious circumstances and there appeared to be no natural reason as to why the leaves had literally withered on the vine.
Had we been targeted by someone with an axe to grind? A disgruntled ex-employee or former seasonal worker perhaps, a jealous neighbour or a local – like the man from the customs office – who simply didn’t like the English? (No, really, he told me as much.)
After further inspection with our oenologiste, the truth emerged and, although happily less menacing, it was no less bizarre. The entire row – which is at one of the highest points of the vineyard some 500 metres from the house, had been struck by lightning.
A training wire, as readers of our printed Gazette might recall, had conducted the full force all the way down the row, killing virtually all the vines. You can see where the lightning hit and split one of the posts in the photo.
We replanted the entire row soon after and now, at long last, the young replacements will come into production this year – even though they took a battering in the hailstorm last May which has stunted their growth a bit. Hey ho.