In 2002, Plaimont created France’s first private ampelographic conservatory.
What is ampelography?
Ampelography is simply the science of identifying and describing grape varieties. Ampelography is derived from the Greek words “ampelos” (“vine”) and “graphein” (“to write”). In the early 20th century, two men, Pierre Viala and Victor Morel, tried for the first time to “put the grapevine into writing”. They produced a seven-volume book entitled “Ampélographie : Traité général de viticulture” (Ampelography: General Treaty of Viticulture), a veritable encyclopaedia describing some 5,200 grape varieties grown around the world.
A “library of grape varieties” in the Gers region
Plaimont Producteurs is particularly involved in ampelographic research. Between 1950 and 2000, various ampelographers and technicians scoured the region to compile an inventory of grape varieties and “very old plots”. They identified a remarkable heritage, unique in France, which led to the creation of the Ampelographic Conservatory of Saint-Mont in 2002. A “living library” home to a collection of 37 grape varieties (17 white, 19 red and 1 pink) native to the Pyrenean foothills, including one authentic wild grape variety and one Fer Servadou mutation. Twelve grape varieties are completely original and previously unknown.
An experimental vineyard
The identified grape varieties were planted on an experimental vineyard in Southwest France (2002-2004) and carefully monitored (2004-2008), before some underwent micro-fermentation (2008-2015). Although the main priority remains conservation, some grape varieties have already shown interesting characteristics. These include the Manseng Noir, of which only one vine was found and which is currently grown on several hectares.
A vine listed as a historic monument
Discovered in the 1970s by the ampelographers, the Sarragachies plot is a real treasure. Planted before 1830, it has the rare characteristic of being resistant to phylloxera, the aphid that ravaged a large part of France’s vineyards in a devastating outbreak that began in 1863. Its listing as a Historic Monument – a first in the plant world – recognises its outstanding heritage value:
- A plot of vines almost 200 years old, the oldest in France in this state of preservation.
- An area of 0.21 hectares showing the rural micro-plot planting design of the early 19th
- Naturally protected against phylloxera thanks to the sandy soil.
- Growing techniques abandoned after the ravages of phylloxera, with dual ungrafted vines planted in squares and trained high.
- Exceptional genetic diversity: 21 rare grape varieties, including 7 still unknown.
Plaimont continues its research. Ampelographic meetings (the Rencontres Ampélographiques) are held regularly, bringing the field’s top specialists to the Gers region. The Ampelographic Conservatory of Saint Mont has several aims:
- To continue the preservation of local heritage
- To improve knowledge of the grape varieties found
- To preserve the representative character of wines
- To help adapt to climate change