The historical role of complantation, or crowd planting, is not well known to the public. Indeed, to fully understand complantation, one must go back to the time when winegrowers were still peasants, and not "wine growers". The first notable difference lies in the question of self-sufficiency: before the recent progress in agriculture in the last century, plant material for wine growing, to use modern terms, had been selected with little technical skill. The varieties (grape varieties) were very varied, and there was a great deal of variation in susceptibility to coulure. At that time, Europe did not know the question of "modern" diseases (mainly mildew and oidium, imported from the United States with the first rootstocks), so the question of losses due to coulure was THE central issue! And the logical, peasant answer, known for centuries, was to plant the different "mixed" varieties in the field: the losses of some were then compensated by the production of others. The following year, under different flowering conditions, the balance was reversed! Time has returned the proportions and selection characteristic of the place, but never in the "modern" purity (100%) of a single variety, far too risky technically for the winegrowers' livelihood. Let us recall in passing that historically the winegrowers were the poorest farmers: they worked in the least fertile places, the vines being cultivated on poor soils (limestone, schist, granite, etc), or on steep slopes (where marl can also be found), and above all "failing" to be able to plant another crop! Thus, as time went by, and well before the legal texts of our modern appellations were put in place, it was a question of local wines above all, not being able to name the wines other than by their origin, for lack of pure grape varieties! Thus, the meaning of appellations must be clearly understood: far from creating place names, it was above all the fruit of a desire to protect winegrowers from usurpation, and to a second extent, to "protect" them from globalisation, globalisation, already well underway at the time! The disappearance of complantation as a majority cultivation method can be attributed to two major reasons:
- the disappearance of the historic vineyard by phylloxera, which opened the way to further varietal research, hence the door to a "rationalized" and massive replanting from clones. The oldest vines, pre-phylloxera, and of course planted in mixture, are still found in the appellations where some sands are present (and where phylloxera could not therefore contaminate the plots). Naturally, the modern text of the appellation having then been adapted to these historical situations, we can see that it allows the production of wines both "pure" or almost "pure", and with a large number of grape varieties. Châteauneuf du Pâpe is a famous example of this! - Finally, the second factor is the gunpowder factories, which had no use for it after the Second World War, and which have found a very practical use in the food shortage that marked the post-war period: the production of the first industrial fertilisers, whose manufacture is known to be very close to that of gunpowder, and whose combination with the first herbicides, contributed to a considerable increase in the vigour of the vineyards. For for the complantation, it is essential to understand that the yield is the only key to harvest the plot at a sufficiently homogeneous maturity. Indeed, the more vigorous the vines are, the greater the differences between the grape varieties; conversely, the less vigorous the vines are, the more the maturity advances at the same rate, due to the natural limitations imposed by the terroir.
NB: we can also think that historically, over-vigouring never existed before herbicides and fertilizers, as the plants were always in competition with each other, or at least with the surrounding grasses, which the winegrower removed as well as possible by picking the plots (twice a year, which was far from giving a result related to the current herbicides, which are also synthetic, just like fertilizers). Finally, the last explanatory factor for the interest of complantation, which is not well known, but which the latest studies gently highlight: communication between plants! It is therefore important to understand the plant as a living being: that is to say that it communicates with its fellow creatures, in a language of its own (root exudate, hormone secretion, etc.).
Thus I am persuaded that a complantation is a "large family", which lives together, communicates together, and finally has a group behaviour that surpasses the behaviour that each of these grape varieties would have individually (what happens when a grape variety is planted alone, or surrounded by... itself (clones) ! The idea of a terroir in harmony with the vines that grow there, and which would therefore mark the "family" then takes on its full meaning!