When Art opens Doors / by Jeannine Cook

 Vineyard in the Yonne, Burgundy

Vineyard in the Yonne, Burgundy

It is always delicious when you stray into new areas of knowledge by chance. Preparing for my September show at the Musee de Noyers came about because of finding fossil-laden stones last summer and starting on a whole new drawing odyssey. That in turn has opened doors of fascination. I have learned a little about Chablis wines, the effect on their terroir from these minute fossilized oysters in the Kimmelridgian layers of chalky soil and the history of wine growing in that area of Burgundy, in the Yonne department.

 Kimmelridgian chalky soil, Chablis area

Kimmelridgian chalky soil, Chablis area

 Fossilised Oyster-bearing stone, Chablis region. photo J. Cook

Fossilised Oyster-bearing stone, Chablis region. photo J. Cook

Way back in time, wine-bearing vines were cultivated in the regions of Armenia, Georgia and Colchis in 3000-2000 BC. Their culture slowly spread into Europe. These vines were the survivors of devastating ice ages, when Europe was a frozen desert for temperate plants. They had only survived in one area, sheltering on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, protected from the northern and western cold area. After the Ice Ages, the grapevine began to spread again, and felicitously, the varieties of grape that colonized Europe were of high wine-making quality.

In the Yonne department of Burgundy, the oldest traces of wine growing were found on a Gallo-Roman low-relief carving of a harvester picking a bunch of grapes. It dates from the second century AD in the Auxerre region.

Bas-reliefof man harvesting grapes, Escolives-Sainte-Camille,Yonne, 2nd century AD
Bas-reliefof man harvesting grapes, Escolives-Sainte-Camille,Yonne, 2nd century AD

By 1323, wine was being produced in the Chablis area, thanks to the efforts of the Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Pontigny. Vineyards were steadily planted in the Yonne because the network of rivers and waterways facilitated the transport of wine to Paris. It was not only the monks in the monasteries who appreciated good wine!

 Celebrating Grapes, column capitol, Vezelay, 12th century Ad. photo J. Cook

Celebrating Grapes, column capitol, Vezelay, 12th century Ad. photo J. Cook

Before phylloxera devastated the wine industry in the late 19th century, the Yonne was the largest wine-producing region in France, with 40,000 hectares under cultivation. Today, there are only about 6,200 hectares of grapes in the Yonne, including about 5000 hectares of Chardonnay grapes grown in the Chablis area.

 Vineyards, Chablis area

Vineyards, Chablis area

Just one of the doors to fascination that opened, thanks to my art-making in Noyers.  Next post to come, another area I learned about.