GEST – and the preservation of old vines


GEST - preserving old varieties of vines

The Groupement d’Etude et de Suivi des Terroirs, GEST, can be translated as the Terroir study and monitoring Group.

Formed in 1995 as a non-profit organisation, GEST is a group of over 100 vigneron(ne)s who are looking not just to the study of terroir but also preserving aspects of vine culture in the region – including old vine types, often thought lost, which might offer some future solutions should there be a significant change in, for instance, climate. This small report covers some of the work of GEST in Beaune, preserving old varieties of vines.

The conservation of old varities

In an area called Mont Battois, high on the hill overlooking Beaune and close to the A6 motorway that thunders in the direction of Chablis and Paris, are a number of vineyards – but one looks very different to the others and this is the Conservatoire of the GEST organisation – image above. This plot actually belongs to the ATVB (Association Technique Viticole de Bourgogne), which is the technical partner for this project.

This conservatory has replanted those grape varieties that were formerly cultivated in Burgundy, the aim being to create a genetic reservoir for future areas of research. The soil here in the Mont Battois may be quite high in terms of altitude but is typical of the Côte d’Or region in all but one other facet – it had never previously been planted. The space was made available by clearing some of the woods above Beaune. This is important because it means that vines had never previously been planted in this place so should offer a space for planting that was 100% free of the diseases and viruses that beset vines planted elsewhere in the region.

The virus aspect is so important to the ‘conservation’ aspect that certain rare varieties will not be planted here due to leaf-roll and court-noué viruses being endemic in remaining plantations. Some people consider that grafting places a barrier between the variety and the terroir but the team here don’t have the luxury of a sandy, phylloxera free, environment so use the SO4 rootstock as it is both ‘vigorous and something of a global reference.

Choosing what to plant…

The origin of grape varieties is based on three local genetic sources which give the oldest base vine types:
– the Noiriens, originally from the high valleys of the Seine and the Saône: these bring the family of pinots (white, red, gray, meunier, black, moure and teinturier where the juice is actually coloured red)
– the Gouais, of uncertain origin – eastern France or Croatia – their direction of migration is unknown
– the Tressots, from the Yonne and Armançon basin

Then a host of grape varieties was born from the crossing of Noiriens X Gouais, the crosses delivering a more abundant production. From here comes the whole Gamays family, (teinturier, white and white juice), Chardonnay, Aligoté, Melon, Gouget and many others, as well as crosses between Noiriens and families of related grape varieties, often geographically differentiated producing varieties that include césar and Sacy.

Varieties Planted:
*Table contents courtesy GEST:
Believed to have originated in BurgundyPinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir Précoce, Pinot Noir Mourot, Pinot Rouge, Chardonnay Blanc, Chardonnay Rose, Chardonnay Muscaté, Gouais, Aligoté, Gamay Noir, Gamay de Bouze, Gamay Fréaux, Gamay Castille, Gamay de Chaudenay, Gamay Gris, Gamay Précoce, César, Sacy, Gascon, Melon, Tressot Noir, Tressot Blanc (not found, assumed lost), Tressot Panaché, Beaunoir (not found, assumed lost), Samoriau (not found, assumed lost), Plant Vert, Troyen
Cultivated in Burgundy but originating elsewhereChasselas Doré, Cot, Arbane, Teinturier du Cher (not found, assumed lost), Joubertin, Savagnin Blanc, Savagnin Rose, Enfariné Gris, Peurion, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Corbeau, Gueuche Noire, Gouget Blanc, Gros Meslier
HybridsOberlin Noir, Maréchal Foch, Ravat 6
‘Cousins’ not cultivated in BurgundyMeunier, Auxerrois, Trousseau, Petit Meslier

The first 22 vine varieties were planted in Mont Battois in 2016 with further plantations in 2017 and 2018 and this place is open for anybody to visit. The parcel is planted in blocks of vines with a 2-metre gap between rows. For instance, a block of pinot and its mutations, then a block of gamay and its mutations – here they have 5 gamay mutations but there are as many as 30! There are 8 plants for each variety that is represented. Three chardonnays are planted; normal, muscaté and rosé – this latter as produced by Sylvain Pataille in Marsannay.

Jean-Claude Rateau of Beaune keeps the vines in good shape, ploughing between the rows and making treatments whilst Agnès Mathé keeps an eye on the pruning and development of the vines, including the dates of flowering and the onset of grape maturities. Jean-Claude was the president of the GEST conservatory – whilst Thibault Liger-Belair is president of the GEST itself.

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