International Volunteer Work in Bordeaux Vineyards
The upper Dordogne Valley is noted for its scenic villages, imposing castles and the amazing ancient cave art at Lascaux and other sites, but the lower valley is also worth visiting with its wonderful old chateaus and endless vineyards, including the site of our international volunteer work with Earthwatch Institute expedition, WILDLIFE & WINE IN BORDEAUX at the Chateau les Vergnes near Sainte-Foy-la-Grande. Earthwatch Institute is an international volunteer organization sponsoring scientific research for the benefit of the environment all around the world. Here, our research project was studying biodiversity in the vineyards, woodlands, meadows and ponds of the chateau for the benefit of the farmers, local wildlife and the entire ecosystem of the Bordeaux Vineyards.
The rendezvous for the seven Earthwatch volunteers was in Bordeaux, a pleasant city with great transportation including a shuttle from the airport to the city center and Gare St. Jean railway station, and a convenient tram system to just about any place you may want to go in the city. I came in early and stayed at a hotel near the station and right on the tramline, so was able to tour the city before Dr. Maarten Van Helden and Josepha Guenser, the research scientists, met us at the station. They drove us about 80 kilometers through the countryside of villages and vineyards along the Dordogne River to the Chateau where we had lunch under the old linden trees in the courtyard – with Bordeaux wine, of course! Then, an orientation walk through the vines and nature areas of the chateau and a short drive to Domaine du Moulin des Sandaux where we settled into our very comfortable accommodations for the two week stay.
After a 7:30 breakfast of coffee, juice, croissants, baguettes, jam, cheese and ham the next morning we returned to the chateau and went right to work. We collected plant samples from the grassy areas between the rows of vines, identified them by their common and latin names for later verification in the field, and later did intensive studies and census in square meter plots throughout the field to determine plant diversity. Then we dug holes at regular distances throughout the field and installed small plastic insect traps half filled with a salt/soap/water solution at ground level. Later in the week we collected the drowned insects for study in the lab and refilled the traps for a repeat study the following week.
Using the microscopes in the lab to identify and count the several types of insects was great fun! Many, such as crickets, grasshoppers, ants, bees, spiders, wood lice, common flies and beetles were pretty easy even without the microscope, but some, such as aphids, leafhoppers and odd variations of the others were real puzzlers! And, some looked very formidable under the scope! Another study involved taking 10cm deep soil samples and putting the samples under bright light to force the micro-organisms through a screen into containers with alcohol for an even more challenging microscopic study!
We had the weekend off so Josepha arranged a Saturday trip for us to the colorful market at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande for shopping and lunch, and then on to the historic monument of Chateau de Monbazillac for a museum tour and wine tasting. On Sunday we just relaxed at Sandaux, swam in the pool and took local hikes. Later in the week we drove to the famous St. Emilion wine center where we split into three teams to do interesting map survey hikes to identify the use of plots that weren’t clear on aerial maps. After lunch, we had a tour of the city and its ancient monolithic church that was carved out of solid limestone in the 11th century. On another day we had a tour of the cooperative winery along with another wine tasting. They presented us with several gifts, including a bottle of wine from the Chateau!
Throughout the two weeks we had great dinners at Sandaux featuring rural French specialties and, of course, a variety of pates and local wines! All too soon we wrapped up all of the studies and had a magnificent farewell dinner in the old Chateau dining room with four different Chateau les Vergnes wines! This is a very pleasant expedition in the Bordeaux Vineyards and although everyone puts in full days, it is not strenuous, so it would be a great adventure for seniors interested in international volunteer work, working with biodiversity in the vineyards while sampling the great Bordeaux wines! I really enjoyed the expedition and hope to return!