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Les Arabesques — Saskia Van Der Horst

Saskia is one of a small handful of young farmers and winemakers who wish to set up their own domaines by working with natural farming practices in the south of France. It is not without risk, rather about fulfilling a life dream: old vines, organic farming and minimal intervention winemaking - and she has succeeded.

LITTLEWINE visited Saskia in the Roussillon

"Every year I play around a little bit. I have fun with the wines and at the same time, I’m looking for myself in them. I’m trying to find something that I like and that makes me happy, and if others like them too, then even better…"

People:  Saskia Van Der Horst

Place:  Roussillon, France

Varieties:  Carignan, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Grenache blanc, Macabeu and Syrah

Hectares:  4.5, over eight parcels

Farming:  Biodynamic

Wines: Click here

Did You Know? While studying, Saskia carried out internships with Jean-Claude Rateau in Beaune, one of the first biodynamic producers in Burgundy, having converted in 1979. She also worked with Domaine des Terres Promises in Provence, and went on an exchange program with her wine school to a big winery in South Africa. 

Grenache blanc

All of her parcels bar one are home to very old vines; this is what makes the Roussillon shine; it's a haven of old vine material and well-preserved and ancient genetics. They had all been treated chemically before Saskia took them on, so it’s been a long struggle to revive their health. Due to their age, they were already low-yielding, so the conversion process brought them even lower for a while. 

“This year, I am taking out a block of very old Syrah vines which are now just struggling too much. I have many ideas for that parcel - I want to plant a field blend of varieties, but also with trees. Monoculture is a fairly recent phenomenon on the scale of things. I am very interested in agroforestry; vines and trees living together in the future could be a good thing for the future.” 

By interplanting with trees, she hopes to not only provide a more biodiverse landscape for her vines, but also to give her more financial stability. She explains,

“Not only is it fascinating to see how vines and trees might live together, but it will also help to improve balance - not just in nature, but economically. I can do this with permaculture and agroforestry.”

By planting peach, apricot and cherry trees, she will also be able to sell fruit, which in years where the climate creates difficulties for wine would provide a financial beacon of light. 

"I don’t make large production wines - usually around 10,000 bottles per year, but I have balance. It’s not about making loads of wine, there needs to be room for everyone. Down here, we see a lot of the giant wineries in disastrous economic situations - they’ve made too much wine and...

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