Bertranges, from the blessed Virgin to the ONF12 February 2019
Since the venerable oak forest of Bertranges grows in the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region, it might be said that it was destined for wine by its very geography.
Since the venerable oak forest of Bertranges grows in the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region, it might be said that it was destined for wine by its very geography. Lying north of Nevers on the right bank of the Loire, the history of this high forest dates back to the 12th century, when its fate became inextricably bound up with a woman. In bequeathing the lion’s share of her property to the Virgin Mary on her deathbed, Emmengarde de Narcy, a most pious lady, ceded the “Grande Bertrange,” as the woodland attached to her seigniorial domain was known.
The national forest covers 14 communes, with 389 plots, that is a total of 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres), a surface area almost double that of 1886, with 80% Quercus sessiliflora or rubor and 5% beech, once the dominant species. In a clearing one comes across a small village nestling in the woods. Welcome to Murlin, the headquarters of the Charlois group, France’s largest oak forestry concern. “La Bertrange,” as they say here as if talking of a much-loved woman, supplies oak logs of exceptional quality, fought over by furniture and cooperages at yearly sales organized by the ONF. Its secret lies in its soil, a Jurassic terrain comprising “argillaceous or argillaceous-siliceous silt of the Upper Pliocene period, generally designated as clay-with-flint, and locally as boulaise”.
“This Atlantic oak wood possesses a geological profile close to that of Tronçais and Bercé,” observes Cyril Gilet, local ONF forest technician at Bertranges since 1996. “The forest is 80% sessile oak, with average age of 90. The sessile oak slow growing, and, amidst the neighboring vegetation of beech and hornbeam, it needs about sixty years more than the common oak to attain a diameter of 60 centimeters (23 in.). The tallest tree here stands at 38 meters (c. 124 feet). This may not sound much, but an oak grows before it thickens out, and it is the slowness of this growth that determines its quality,” adds this green champion of “La Bertranges”. The older a forest is, the richer in humus its soil becomes: this is the secret of this young grove that might be described as a “grand cru” forest.
A paradise for ramblers from the Charitois country and beyond, the forest of Bertranges is traversed by one of the paths on the Way of St. James, the Voie de Vézelay, and by the GR 654 hiking trail. The Fontaine de la Vache, the valley of Gratte-Chien, the vale of Maupreyonde, whence springs the Mazou that then runs down to the Loire, are just some of the treasures within its territory. One may occasionally encounter the hunt, the Rallye Pique Avant Nivernais founded in 1919. The current master, Philippe de Roüalle, rides to hounds in pursuit of roe and red deer at meets on Tuesday and Saturdays. Because the other king of Bertranges, apart from the oak, is the stag.
Published in October 2018, the book The oak in majesty, from forest to wine highlights the concept of forest terroir: a specific soil, aspect, and rainfall, as well as a particular exposure to sunlight, to which should be added the species or variety of tree, the density of plantation, as well as average age, all of which will influence the grain and quality of the wood. The value of a mature high forest will thus depend on both the terroir and in the way in which it has been “led,” as French winegrowers say, or managed, in the words of the forester.
The book, fully illustrated with photographies, compile, through a gazeteer with a lot of details about geography, mesoclimate and history, a list of twenty-six beautiful oak wood forests, as the national forest of Bertranges.
Find out the entire gazeteer of France’s great oak woods, and much more, in The oak in majesty, from forest to wine written by Sylvain Charlois et Thierry Dussard.