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Oak

Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Darney, or the conquest of the oak

28 May 2019

Once the property of the house of Lorraine, the forest of Darney extends over 22000 hectares (54363 acres) and 36 communes of the Vosges and the Haute-Saône. In the 12th century the forest was peppered with Cistercian abbeys and priories, and later the dukes of Lorraine brought over Czech glassmakers and installed forges and steelworks, all with an insatiable appetite for wood.

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 Darney.

 

Once the property of the house of Lorraine, the forest of Darney extends over 22000 hectares (54363 acres) and 36 communes of the Vosges and the Haute-Saône. In the 12th century the forest was peppered with Cistercian abbeys and priories, and later the dukes of Lorraine brought over Czech glassmakers and installed forges and steelworks, all with an insatiable appetite for wood. This sizable stretch of woodland is now partitioned into 8,000 ha (19,700 acres) of national historic forest, managed by the ONF, 5,000 ha (12,300 acres) of private woodland, and 2,000 ha (4,950 acres) of forest belonging to the commune, at an average altitude of 230 m (755 feet). Over the thirty last years, temperatures have risen from 9.3°C to 10.6°C (2000). Beaver and lynx, black stork and white-clawed crayfish are just a few of the animal species you might encounter here.

It is a continental forest marked by very abundant rainfall (c. 1480 mm or 37 in. per annum), and a soil of red Bunter sandstone with minor granite and gneiss outcrops. In the forest depression of Darney, oak is in the majority (58%), followed by beech (31%) and conifers. “We have a prolonged period of vegetative growth and on such fertile soil we have to curb the growth of the oak by interplanting with beech,” explains Bruno Gratia, ONF agent for the territorial unit of Darney-Bains. “Yet the lengthy history of this forest has bequeathed it with an exceptional genetic heritage and, even after clearings have been cut, when the oaks are in full sunlight, only a few suckers grow on the trunks.” “The oaks there possess a straightness reminiscent of mountain firs, while the vast beech wood stretches as far as the eye can see like a sea of green,” wrote Charles Guyot, director of the forestry school in Nancy in the 19th century. Sawmills and stavemaking are the principal activities in this renowned forest, much sought after for its fine grain.

 

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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