Domaine Mirabeau Update: Fruit Trees and Compost Tea

November has seen the vines at Domaine Mirabeau transform to a blaze of golds and deep crimson reds, and then the leaves falling altogether, leaving just the brown and black gnarled vines. The weather has been fairly mild, at around 15 degrees, and it’s been a lot drier this year compared to last year, when we had floods and a three-day power cut at the Domaine. We had our first frosts at the end of November, turning the ground to silver.

There are lots of wild mushrooms popping up all over the Domaine, and Pascal picked some edible wild “sanguins” mushrooms, although we haven’t been able to find the girolles that we found last year. There are also lots of “arbousier” fruit trees in the hills behind the Domaine, which in English are referred to as strawberry trees. Apparently, they are very prevalent in the Mediterranean but also in Ireland too, and are sometimes called the “Irish strawberry tree”. The fruits have a high content of sugars (40%), and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C. In cooking, they are used mostly for jam, marmalades, syrups and alcoholic beverages.

October and November are usually rich with food festivals in Provence: the quince festival in Cotignac, the chestnut festival in Collobrières, the mushroom festival in Théoule, but unfortunately these have had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The black truffle season begins at the beginning of December, so all being well we hope to be able to visit some truffle markets. 

As part of our mission to regenerate the soil on Domaine Mirabeau, and increase biodiversity, this month our farmer Anthony distributed an incredible 130 tonnes of compost, and we planted 110 trees in between the vines, including plum trees, fig trees and almond trees, as well as lots of other plants and shrubs.

Bea James, Corporate Social Responsibility Mirabeau

These trees will play a very important role in increasing biodiversity, attracting insect and bees, as well as beginning to move the Domaine away from being a single crop monoculture. The plan for the orchard was developed together with the plant nursery; fruit trees (almond, fig, plum, and pomegranate) were separated out and planted every 10 metres, with nine smaller shrubs in between, then we developed a hedge with shrubs and small trees in the middle, that will flower and attract bees.

This month, together with our consultant viticulturalist Clément, we also begun a very interesting process to stimulate diverse microbial growth and improve our soil; the development of “compost tea”.  Compost tea contains two important soil improving components: nutrition and soil microbes. In addition to the microbial component of compost tea, additional benefits include increased growth through improved nutrition, better soil structure, and disease suppression. Clément and the team collected 3kg of decomposing and decaying litterfall from the floor of the forests surrounding the Domaine (leaves, pine needles, twigs), which then went off to a local farm to be fermented into a ‘tea’ which will then be sprayed on the vineyard in a few months’ time. We’ll be sharing more information on this in next month’s newsletter.