The Troglodyte village of Turquant is on tufa rock and most of the houses on this part of the Loire are built of this stone. Below is a pic of some studios one of which sells tapped apples. Back in 1887 the Eel worm Phylloxera showed up in the grapevines and wiped out the existing stock. It was able to eat through the cambium layer in the roots of the vines and for a time untill a solution could be found the people of this area started making a type of alcoholic desert using apples. The preserved fruits were hit with a hammer before being bottled. Their long shelf life meant that the industry took off. Only one business remains selling tastings but it was interesting to think about how the people of the region adapted.
Before the vines were wiped out to produce a new plant one simply took hardwood cuttings and put them in the ground. Now all the vines grown are on American root stocks that have a thicker cambium layer which the eel worm cannot penetrate. Todays varieties are grafted onto these rootstocks. Ironically the eelworm came in from America as did the solution.
In the man made caves beneath this village and surrounding countryside muchrooms are grown comercially and every so often among the vines you see a ventilation shaft.
The variety of grape grown is mainly Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux. Below is a picture of wall.The grower Piere Cristal once grew vines through long stone wall.The vines were planted on the cooler north side and as they grew they were trained through small holes about a half metre from the ground.This meant that the fruits could benefit from full sun as well as the heat that stored in the wall. It reminded me a bit of how when your walking along a road and you find some tasty blackberries growing by a south facing stone wall.
Traditionally these vines would have been hand picked and destined for Bordeaux. Reflecting a little on the landscapes we have seen such as the fields of Corn, Brassicas, and especially the vines its easy to get seduced into the notions of tradition that signboards in villages focus on. The good old days when the work was done by hand, when the patterns of planting where scattered, very different from the order which allows for machine harvesting today. There is no getting away from the fact that these are enormous monocultures reliant on chemicals to keep pest and disease at bay. Here I came across a perhaps disgarded vine growing as part of a hedge which I find far more interesting.
Moving south from the Loire the landscape is almost entirely monoculture. In the fields off in the distance large corn harvesting machines are followed by tractors and those tall vine harvesting machines move down the rows to waiting trailors. It seems it is no longer possible to take part in the traditional handpicking harvest. Traditionally spanish pickers moved between the vinyards helping at harvest time. Below is a pic of what is left when the corn has been harvested.
Slow internet at the moment so no pics yet!
Arriving into the Town of Roscoff we headed out for a long walk around the town and into the surrounding countryside. One of the first thing you notice is that there are no fences or hedges around fields making them easily accessible and suitable for machine harvesting. In the town itself between the houses it was common to come across a field of cabbages of perhaps 2 or 3 acres all in perfect rows and with few weeds. A few minutes down the road and there was an acre of corn growing, further along Jerusalum Artichokes by the acre and all in the town itself. I was thinking these might have been community patches but I,m not so sure now. Along the Roadsides and verges flowers replaced the typical grass strips of home especially on corners where clearly great care and attention was given to planting of perennial shrubs mixed with annuals flowers and ornamental veg. Plants included Amaranth, Cosmea, Corn. Walking along looking into the gardens, people were growing apples, pears, figs and passion flowers as well as well ordered leeks, kale and many annual vegetables. It is from Roscoff that the Johnnies laden with their rose onions took the boat to the U.K to sell door to door as far away as London. Apparently 20 men still do this?
In these parts there is a love of the exotic and within Roscoff there is an exotics garden near the rose granite shore. One of the more unusual trees that caught my eye was the Mimosa now out of flower but with its distinctive fern like leaves and pods dangling looking like peas. These were planted regularly as ornamentals in parks and gardens. The coastline around here is rocky granite and down on the shore line an entire family was walking knee deep in the water with nets poking under rocks and dropping some unfortunate creature into their buckets. There is clearly a cultural interest in foraging over here.
In Le Diben similar plants were found. Here the residence had a particular love for Hydrangeas , Agapanthus and Lots of Rosa Rugosa ( the flesh is very tasty just the surface layer)Around the rocky coastline Rock Samphire and Seabeet was growing in the splash zone and this too was gathered. Between the houses on green lanes the odd tasty treat was hanging which I must admit on a few occasion was too difficult to resist.
In Plougasnou the quiet town came alive on Tuesday with a market in the village centre. Quite a few of the stalls were selling AG (Agriculture Bio) Organic in other words and there was a dazzling array of Squash of all shapes and sizes. Large Aubergines were selling 3 for 2 euro and a Demi Kilo of Organic mixed cherry tomatoes went for 2 euro. You could tell the stall holders were passionate about their food and it was nice to be able to support them.
We stayed on an organic cider farm near Pleston which is part of the France passion stopover places for campervan. Here we walked the orchards and surrounding country lanes. The apple trees were spaced between 20 and 25 feet apart between rows and 8,12 and 25 feet apart in the row depending on rootstock I imagine. Bee hives were used for pollination. The surrounding fields were intensively planted with fodder maize which by now was well dry and days from harvest. Indeed a few days later we did see the Harvesting with Combines and tractors as we met a road block. Beyond the apple trees and fields of corn the few hedges were full of Sweet Chestnut. They literally fell on you. I had read that these can be eaten raw once shelled so gave it a try. Initially the taste is a bit odd (Tart) but does sweeten up after a bit. These are passable I suppose but much nicer roasted. I have since read that they can be boiled for 30 to 40 mins and eaten so will try this soon. Now that the bucket of spuds from the home garden is empty there is some space to store some for the winter. They are much larger than those I have seen growing in Ireland and you are likely to get 2 decent nuts instead of one.
In Dinan a Medieval walled town we parked at the base of the Viaduct and headed up hill to the town passing through an old apple Orchard. There were some good but small eaters here so gathered a few. In the towns market area all manner of vegetables, fish , meat ,mushrooms and even snails were on sale. The mushrooms on sale included Ceps, Chanterelle, oysters, Shikake and I am still to come across edible mushrooms on walks. I did see a beefsteak the other day but it’s a bit messy to bring back.
In Segre we walked along the L’Oudan river littered with Sweet Chestnuts. The river mist was rolling in as night fell. By the banks of the river boats were tied up at the bottom of a large neat allotment area full of flowers, fruit bushes and an array of veg.
As we approached the Loire region we saw the first grape vines as the cornfields made some room for the vines. We stopped in the town of Saint-Remi were we walked the surrounding countryside on the river banks. The entire area is prone to flooding and is a protected habitat. The land here is very sandy and traditionally used for hay making. In the fields North of the town to the river the land is managed to encourage wild flowers. In particular the Snake Fritilary (April-May) grows here. The hedgerows here are 200 years old and include species such as (Tappoled ) Ash trees. This is the practice of pollarding the tree at about 10 feet or so. Elm, Cherry, Oak and Willow and Poplar also grow here. Mistletoe was also spotted growing . On the return to the village a large walnut tree had dropped a pile of nuts so these were gathered for cracking later. We have been adding them to the breakfast. My uncles tool kit saved the day yet again.
At the Chateau Brissac after the visit we walked the grounds. On a south facing slope were rows of vines with small white wine grapes. They had yet to be picked. Recent planting included many species of Acers for example “Green Cascade” Arround the tree and perennial beds thick layers of perhaps 2 to 3 inches of woodchips (not bark mulch) are used to suppress weed growth and retain moisture. This practice has been noticed in many town and villages so far.
We stayed at a wine producers in Montreuill-Bellay and walked out into surround countryside. Here the rolling hills are covered in vineyards. Seven vines at 4 foot spacing then a post for as far as the eye can see and about a 4 foot spacing in the rows . Some are supported on the North –South axis others on the East –West, As the row and spacing width seem to be the same ,the direction of support I,m guessing has more to do with wind direction. Generally vines grew on both sides of the road. At a bend in the road there was a patch of waste ground that had a mix of trees and shrubs. Here along the road a number of perhaps disgarded vines were growing up the trees. In contrast to their manicured neighbours the grapes were much larger but less of them. As this was a bit of waste ground and these were “weeds” I decided to have a taste. The flavour was incredible. My little vine at home had produced some tasty grapes but these were in a different league. I,m very luck to be here at this time as the machine are out picking the grapes today so the flavours are at their best.