Before tractors became the norm in Burgundy, all the vineyards were plowed and tended with the help of horses. This "old" way of doing things disappeared for a few decades and the horses were replaced by tractors. In the past five years, however, I have been thrilled to see more and more horses start to work the vineyards again around our properties in Burgundy.
One day we were driving home to Villers-la-Faye from a beautiful day in Dijon and touring the caves (not wine cellars this time but actual caves with stalactites and the whole deal) in the nearby town of Bèze. We drove past this beautiful work horse in the vineyards just outside of Gevrey-Chambertin. The girls begged us to stop.
We weren't in any kind of rush (we are rarely in any kind of rush in Burgundy) so we pulled over on the side of La Nationale and hopped out. We met this lovely Burgundian woman above who trains horses to work in the vineyards and who obviously has a deep love and respect for her robust workmates. She explained all about the tools she uses and the benefits of maintaining vineyards with a horse.
She said that using horses naturally clears out the undergrowth between the rows of vines and is far less damaging to the vines itself that using a tractor. Using horses to tend vineyard almost eliminates the need for pesticides and provides natural manure to enrich the soil (enjoy that thought as you sip your next glass of Burgundy Pinot Noir!).
There is also the fact that vineyard horses bring back the tending of vineyards to a human scale. This is perfect for the small terroirs of Burgundy's valuable appellations. Horses, as you can see here, are much more satisfying to pat than a tractor.
My girls fell in love with the horse whose name was Étoile (Star) and got in a good cuddle and chat with her until she had to head back and tend to a few more rows of Burgundy's precious vineyards before turning in for the night.