Interview with Julien, wine-grower

Julien, can you tell us more about your career path?

I studied horticulture at the Institut Technique Horticole in Gembloux. I chose to specialise in forestry. Then I continued my studies with two specialisations at the IPEA La Reid, near Spa: the first in driving forestry machinery and the second as an arborist climber and pruner.

As soon as I finished my studies, I worked as a student in a garden machinery shop, at Somagri in Sauvenière, where I sold, delivered and repaired mini-tractors, lawnmowers and other garden tools.

My knowledge of mechanics and my need to be in contact with plants and nature led me to join the Château de Bousval vineyard team in February 2020.

What is your role at Château de Bousval?

I’m mainly involved in mechanical work, in particular driving, repairing and maintaining machinery such as tractors and the caterpillar tracker. I also take part in manual work in the vineyard, mainly pruning.

I also had the pleasure of being trained in distillation by Germano, our vineyard manager. From January onwards, when the vines are resting, we distil the marc together: the remains of the grapes after pressing. Over the course of a day, we can distil five or six stills, averaging 500 kg a day.

What are your days like at Château de Bousval?

Every day is very different, and that’s what I like about it! My working hours vary according to the season, the weather and the needs of the vineyard. At the start of the season, I take care of weeding, spraying and topping. The quieter days are devoted to upkeep and maintenance of the equipment.

Pruning begins in February, and the activity intensifies from mid-May to mid-September with weeding and treatments. Then we prepare for the harvest. The harvest is the high point of the season, the most joyful time of the year, with long but festive days.

After the harvest, the vineyards are particularly quiet. Only Germano and I are there, like two ghosts, to finish off the last of the work in the vines, tidying up and maintaining the equipment.

What brings you the most pleasure in your work?

What gives me the most pleasure is the challenge: I like to think about the best way to approach and carry out each task, and above all to think about the possibilities for improvement. I need to understand the why in order to have the power to improve things and make them evolve.

What is the greatest difficulty in viticulture?

The biggest difficulty is having to deal with our beloved Belgian weather, which is often unpredictable. This requires a huge amount of time and availability.

Apart from winegrowing, what are your passions?

I have a keen interest in current and past agricultural mechanisation. I’m also very interested in the beginnings of industrialisation and working with horses. My wife and I are the proud owners of Belgian Brabant draught horses and an Ardennes mare, a small but robust and hardy horse. Breeding is a real passion. I also have plans to take in sheep and perhaps a cow in the near future.

My attachment to the land and to nature has also led me to hunting, which I’ve been doing since I was in my late teens.

Do you have a good anecdote or memory to share?

The most memorable moment of the year is, of course, the harvest. Despite the fatigue, as a team we share moments of joy and celebration; the atmosphere is euphoric and there’s a lot of laughter.

The 2022 harvest was particularly prosperous, with a large volume of grapes. The meal organised that year to celebrate the end of this period is probably one of my fondest memories of the vineyard. It was memorable for all of us!