On our recent Yapp sortie to see our French vignerons in Burgundy and the Loire, I became very aware of the huge range of weird and wonderful creatures that we encountered along our travels. Normally, of course, vineyard domaines are essentially agricultural places therefore one would expect to see cats and dogs and the occasional chicken wandering freely around. A few of our growers still practice polyculture, so we were fairly certain to come across the local bovine breed of Charolais, and plenty of sheep. Polyculture is historically a simple way of insurance for a small domaine - a way of spreading ones risks as a safety measure just in case any of the harvests fail totally due to adverse weather conditions. Ideally one would have a few hectares of vines, a small cereal crop maybe, some vegetables as well as livestock. It's the perfect way not to have all your eggs in one basket - although if you had a lot of chickens...
However, there were several other creatures that featured. Firstly, when visiting the tufa chalk cellars of Vouvray and Montlouis; painstakingly hewn out by hand and ideal for keeping an ambient temperature of 12ºC; one had to be very aware of low flying missiles in the shape of swifts and swallows which were constantly arriving and departing to feed their nesting young. Others were the pigeons that we dissuaded from roosting on our window ledge in Tours, the cockerel at Menetou-Salon that seemed to have mistaken twelve noon for dawn and the wonderfully realistic home-made "birds of prey" that were dotted all around the cereal fields of Oiron (Thouarsais) that acted as very effective scarecrows while fluttering menacingly in the wind.
But now the creatures started to get a little more bizarre. At Chateau de Ligre, (Chinon) during our vineyard tour, where one could clearly see the effect of the soil on different parcels of vines (the sandier soils producing a lighter, earlier drinking style, while those vines grown on the heavier clay-based soils give a much fuller, richer and more tannic style); we were treated to an amazing early evening orchestra of sound by countless numbers of crickets in the nearby long grass. I was immediately reminded of a similar experience in the Dentelles de Montmirail in Gigondas some five years ago, when the Provencale crickets (cicadas) were also fully on song.
Still at Chateau de Ligre, after a comprehensive and detailed tasting of their range conducted by Pierre Ferrand in their pristine and stylishly modern on-site shop premises, we walked the short distance back to our vehicle, and we heard the most amazing symphonic clamour emanating from what seemed to be the next field. Pierre said the racket was the croaking made by hundreds of bull frogs in a lake some half a mile away. I couldn't believe the decibel level of the cacophony of amorous amphibians with their arsenal of mating calls.
Probably the strangest creature was found inside the collegiate church of Saint-Maurice in the picturesque town of Oiron where, as previously mentioned in past Yapp catalogues, we found an eight foot stuffed crocodile mounted on to one of the walls. The explanation for this is that the jaw of the crocodile, a reptile which at that time was deemed to hold mystical powers, was ground up to form a paste (hopefully the croc was dead at this stage) to make a magical potion which would cure the townsfolk of the dreaded plague. Certainly different! As we left the sacred church we noticed, in Latin, an inscription on top of the arched entrance which read, 'Here is the End'!