French classify ancient vines as national treasure

Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:36am EDT
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By Marcel Michelson

PARIS (Reuters) - A wine plague spread by lice destroyed vines in France in the 19th century but a small area in the Pyrenees, which contains plants up to 200 years old, was spared and is being classified as a national heritage monument.

Like other national treasures such as the Palace of Versailles and Notre Dame cathedral, the vines in the Ardour valley will be protected.

They contain the ancient DNA of local grape varieties. Some grapes are still being used with grapes from younger generation vines to make Saint-Mont wine.

"It is an exceptional plot," said Olivier Bourdet-Pees, director of the Plaimont wine making firm. "The vines go back 200 years. They were planted in 1800 and 1810. There are 29 different grape varieties of which seven were unknown," he said.

The vine disaster forced many vintners from regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy to seek grafts, or entire vines, from as far away as America.

The vines of Bordeaux were ravaged by the phylloxera outbreak from 1865, a decade after the famous classification of great wines in 1855, and had to be replanted with imported grafts on remaining stems.

In Burgundy, vintners pulled up their old French vines and replanted them with American pinot noir until they discovered that grafting was the best method.