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Oak

Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Cîteaux, where the oaks speak to the wild boar

30 April 2019

As its name suggests, this forest formerly belonged to the Abbey of Cîteaux, founded in 1098 under the protection of the dukes of Burgundy. But the size and wealth of the estate was highly coveted, and it was repeatedly plundered before it entered the public domain following the Revolution.

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 forest of Cîteaux.

 

As its name suggests, this forest formerly belonged to the Abbey of Cîteaux, founded in 1098 under the protection of the dukes of Burgundy. But the size and wealth of the estate was highly coveted, and it was repeatedly plundered before it entered the public domain following the Revolution. Today it comprises a forest massif covering 3,600 hectares (8,895 acres), as well as an exceptional viticultural heritage, after several centuries of selection of grape varieties and plots. Wines from the Clos de Vougeot and Meursault are far too good to be restricted to Mass…

This national forest of the continental type located east of Nuits-Saint-Georges is managed by the ONF and has been listed as a Natura 2000 site due to the richness of its fauna and flora. It sits at an average altitude of 225 meters (738 feet) with rainfall of 750 mm (29½ in.), and the sessile oak predominates here to the tune of two thirds. “The loamy clay soils harbor significant potential for forestry, but the terrain is highly susceptible to subsidence, so we have to be careful when hauling out,” observes Bertrand Blaise, the forest technician in charge of the area since 2009. “It was the majesty of the ancient oak groves that impressed me when I came here; for example, in the Grandes Coupes plot, there are trees that are between 130 and 150 years old.”

Such exceptional specimens are sold in Beaune in September, but not every year… due to a dearth of acorns. “For several years the acorn season failed,” Bertrand explains, “so we had to wait until our oaks bore fruit before felling them. We are aware that in colder climes, acorns are only produced every seven to ten years, but it is also believed that the trees are able to control their production according to how much is eaten by animals beneath its branches. For the oak scatters its acorns in order to reproduce, so if ever it senses they are being over-consumed it will tend to hold back fruiting to discourage predators, which then go elsewhere. Then the oak will quietly go back to dropping acorns again.” This phenomenon, called “masting,” still remains unexplained. “Roots are like underground antenna,” declares eminent botanist Francis Hallé, who shows little surprise at these conversations between plants and animals. In all events, Citeaux has become the forest where the oaks whisper into the ears of wild boar.

 

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 and Thierry Dussard.

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