Le Chameau visited Dominique Fermis, owner of the vineyard Château Montgravier, and his team to find out more about their famous wine region, impressive vineyard, and why they'd all be lost without their Le Chameau boots. Situated around 50km south of Bordeaux, Château Montgravier is in the wine region of Graves. Considered by many as the birthplace of Claret and characterized by the gravel soils (graves) after which it is named, the region is respected as much for its red wines as for its whites. Dominique, who inherited the vineyard from his parents, leads a team of five who work all year round on the 60 hectare plot and take care of everything from planting the vines, to making and bottling the wine. The team expands to twelve during harvest which is the busiest period on the vineyard. Describing the work undertaken, Dominique's passion for his grapes and winemaking is evident. When asked about what he enjoys the most about being a winegrower, he seems surprised that we even have to ask. "Being amongst the vines, of course!" he answers, "nothing beats seeing the sun rise over the valley from the tractor." He admits however, that it's not always easy. Despite the introduction of more sophisticated technology such as the harvesting machines, the job remains incredibly manual and often unpredictable. "When you're working with nature, you're at it's mercy. You can work incredibly hard all year round, protect the vines as much as possible, nurture the plants and their grapes but ultimately, nature is in control. There have been years when we've lost hundreds of vines to illness or to frost." While the idea of a career in wine may sound appealing, Dominique is more realistic. "It's more than a job, it's a way of life. We've seen people arrive in the area and buy up vineyards because they dream of making wine. In reality, it's not as easy is that. Unless you've spent a lot of time in this industry, or grown up in it, as I have, it's incredibly hard." We visited the vineyard at the start of summer when the team was busy tending to the vines, thinning leaves to ensure maximum sunlight to the grapes, and removing burgeoning branches that could weigh down the vines. Any buds or shoots growing from the base of the vine or ground, known as suckers, also need to be removed. Pest control is also crucial at this period. "Throughout June and July, from the flowering of the vines through to the arrival of the grapes, protecting the vines is crucial as the vines are vulnerable. Hot, humid weather attracts a number of pests and intervention is needed." The date of harvest varies from year to year, depending on the weather conditions and grape variety, "we have a good idea of the harvest date a good three months in advance". Predicting the exact time for harvest is an art; too early and the grapes won't be perfectly ripe, too late and rot can set in. "This year, with the high spring temperatures, harvest will be the earliest we've seen for a long time," Dominique says. While the busiest period for any winegrower is harvest time (anywhere from the last days of August through to the end of September), Dominique and his team work all year round to prepare and nurture the vines to help produce the highest quality grapes possible.
Dominique explains that from November to March, once leaf-fall ends, pruning is the main task; branches are stripped back and dead wood is removed and shredded to make way for new growth. In March and April, trellising starts, with the team replacing any posts that have been damaged by the weather or machinery and replacing any broken wires. "It really is non stop, and very manual" says Dominique, explaining that once the trellising is finished, the vines are attached to ensure they are supported as they start to grow. Once the branches start to form, they grow fast so the team must stay one step ahead selecting the branches that will produce the best grapes, lifting them and securing them onto the trellising. Visiting the vines and meeting the team, it's clear that one boot brand is preferred over all others. "We live in our Le Chameaus, all year round", smiles Sebastien, the vineyard manager, who introduces himself as a lifelong Le Chameau fan. "When you're on your feet all day long, day after day, you need to stay comfortable, dry and warm. Le Chameau never lets us down" he enthuses. Cérès and Vierzon are the favoured styles of the Montgravier team. "Cérès is especially good when it gets boggy under foot. With michelin soles! If they're good enough for my tractor tyres, they're good enough for me!" says Bruno, who oversees the pruning and stripping back of the leaves. The enjoyment of the Montgravier team for their surroundings and their passion for the grapes and winemaking is infectious, however after a day amongst the vines, the Le Chameau team are certainly happy to retreat to the cellars for a spot of tasting... What better way to end a day in the field! Shop the Cérès collection here. Shop the Vierzon collection for women here and men here.