Man and a dog in a vineyard
Wine 3 January 2021

Burgundy vineyards – the unseen side

Photographer Jon Wyand spent a year with the vineyard workers of Burgundy, shooting them at work through the seasons. Here he presents some of his images from winter among the vines

Words by Jon Wyand

Photography by Jon Wyand

Previous Gallery

A few years ago, I was asked to review a book entitled “Une Année dans La Vigne” – a slim paperback volume composed of the letters and photos of artist Afred Gaspart. Gaspart spent much of 1935 and 1936 around the town of Beaune, painting watercolours from the black and white photos he took. His subjects were not the great and good of Burgundy’s wine capital, but rather the local inhabitants and vineyard workers. He managed, through regular contact, to earn their trust, to the point where he became, as photographers often aspire to be, invisible.

It was these paintings that planted the seed of my own interest in the people and work I encountered in the vineyard. What enabled the seed to grow were the different seasons I spent in the vines. Becoming aware of the arduous, repetitive tasks that must be undertaken with care in all weather conditions made me realise, in the parlance of 2020, the importance of “frontline workers”, many of whom are families. By way of comparison, over the years, I have seen neophyte winemakers arrive, almost succeed and, in some cases, even achieve great success. It is a rarer thing, though, for winemakers to put down roots and raise their children here.

Starting my project of shooting Burgundy’s Corton hill throughout the year immediately introduced me to these frontline workers whom, I realised, were fundamental to a domaine’s success. I came to the conclusion that those I encountered in the vines, who spend hours bent double in hard conditions, only survive and succeed because they are genetically suited to such work. For their part, some, perhaps most, doubted I would last very long. Photographers turn up with the sun and the harvest – less so when the slopes are slippery with rain and wind and playing out solely to menial work.

To earn the cooperation of your subject takes time, consideration and respect, for both them and their work, but the pay-off is the new dimension it brings to your appreciation of wine.

Pruning
Pruning Aloxe

Wisps of smoke are a sign of winter activity in the vineyard. Most days are long and cold, spent doing what looks like boring, menial work, but it takes a certain type of discipline – one false snip could cost a lot in a Corton Les Perrières grand cru vineyard

Pruning

The pruning season can last from November to February, depending on the weather. The pruned branches are burnt in an old oil tank on wheels, a cross between a Caribbean barbecue and a wheelbarrow

Croix Greves
Marnew Post Charlemagne

Photogenic seasonal weather often arrives at short notice and does not last long. I arrived just in time to catch the fog and frost here – the next morning it was gone. I was even luckier to find someone working in the tiny grand cru of Corton Les Grèves

Marsecateurs at Pernand

These are a female worker’s hands; you are as likely to find women as men in the vineyard today – indeed some married couples work together

Pruning

One minute rain, the next sun – and in Corton Les Vergennes, always the wind

Charlemagne Mud

Slopes are hard work in the rain, even in Corton Charlemagne’s grand cru mud

Winter is a time for repairing. Here, the lieu-dit of Corton Les Renardes is getting a new wall

Rodolphe in Bressandes

Rudolph prefers the watchful company of his dog to that of his fellow workers. While he ties the vines on Corton Bressandes, his dog hopes for a hare.

Corton Clos du Roi to Ladoix-Serrigny

Vineyard workers are occasionally rewarded with glorious early morning views, such as this one looking from Corton Clos du Roi to Ladoix-Serrigny

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