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  • Christina Pickard

The Men and Their Horses

By guest blogger, Whitney Adams

Before setting out on our France adventure, I don’t think Christina or I had any idea how many horses there would be in our future. Almost every winemaker we met had at least 2. Other than their obvious majestic beauty and wise soulful eyes (I’m partial and from Kentucky), the winemakers keep them around as “farm hands.” And companions, of course, but they represent the return to a larger movement championing hand harvesting and non-machine use in the vineyard. It takes a lot more time and can be grueling work, but all of these men feel it is vital to the health of their land and their vines. And to the excellence of their wines.

I wanted to share a little pictorial of, as the title clearly suggests, the men and their horses. So, let’s get to it. Our very first stop of the trip was to see Sebastien Riffault in Sury-en-Vaux a hop, skip and a jump from  Sancerre. We took a cart ride with one of his horses out to the vineyards. What a lovely, albeit brisk, way to spend a morning and see the land!

Our next horse experience, and perhaps the most amazing one, was with Olivier Cousin in the very small town of Martigné-Briand outside of Saumur. If it’s any indication of the epic-ness that was our Cousin experience-  the first night we shared with the Cousin clan ended with midnight horse rides through town to the cellar where we tasted all the new ferments, among other things. Did I mention Olivier’s son played the accordion while doing all of this? Yes- that happened.

Olivier with Kiki (right) and Romeo, my prince (left)

The next afternoon, I got to ride Romeo again bareback through Olivier’s old vine carignan vineyard. Myself, Christina and Olivier’s wonderful American apprentice Clare each had a horse and trotted side by side within the rows of vines. Bareback! On horses! Through the vineyard! The cool factor was almost making my heart explode.

Note from Christina:  What Whitney didn’t tell you is that her beloved Romeo, scared by the ‘cellar dog’, bucked her right off the horse.  I was right behind  so saw her go flying.  Scary at first, but now quite funny…in a dark way.

As amazing as it all was, we had to get in our little Renault Clio and drive 9 (!) hours south to Roussillon for our final visits.

This is where Nina and the plough come in.

Franc the “horse whisperer” with Nina

Marcel Buhler of Domaine des Enfants in Maury schooling Christina in the ways of the plough

I decided I should give it the old college try too.

Note from Christina: This is MUCH harder than it looks.  You have to hold up/steer the heavy plough and the horse and on turns they have to go opposite ways…it’s the ‘ol rub your tummy/pat your head scenario.  I really don’t know how these men do it for days on end but I admire their dedication to the health of their land.

Roussillon is fantastically beautiful and, I think, the next up and coming region in France producing some noteworthy wines. The landscapes are rugged and dramatic with hot sun and strong winds. We tasted some really wonderful wines that are still not imported into the US. More on that coming soon!

And it’s not all about The Men. Let us not forget about…The Women & Their Horses

As a side note: on that drunken late night with Olivier, the cellar and the horses- Olivier grabbed my hand and guided me to the rear of Romeo and then placed my hand right on Romeo’s bollocks. They were large. They were warm. And a panacea of sorts? Or so Olivier said. Or so he did to have a good laugh at the American girl that touched his horse’s balls.

Note from Christina: In case you were wondering, I too had the privilege of touching Olivier’s horse’s balls.  And moments after I sabered a bottle with an ax.  That was just the kind of night it was.

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