“It’s a difficult job .” Pauline Chatin, founder and manager of Vigne de Cocagne doesn't try to hide this truth.
“Being a wine-grower is being a farmer, as well as a good manager and a good salesperson at the same time.” Added to this is the difficulty of buying wine property and, for Vigne de Cocagne, the additional challenge of managing an integration organisation.
Although the wine-growing world is no stranger to the world of integration – dozens of organisations already make people re-entering the workforce available to this sector – this way of doing things did not entirely satisfy Pauline when she took the decision to become a new wine-grower:
“In these projects, the people on the reintegration programmes were only given manual tasks to do – the most unrewarding and repetitive tasks with the least added value. As a result, at the end of their reintegration course, these people could only aspire to low-qualified jobs.”
She therefore decided to create an organisation that would enable them to discover the business in all its richness and diversity. The result is a farm-school where the employees can train by doing all the operations relating to wine-growing and wine-making, from planting the seedlings to marketing bottles and each of the everyday tasks that enable a bottle of wine bottle to be created.
“When a bottle is brought out, they have taken part in every aspect of the process. And we even go as far as to write their first names on each bottle, to emphasise the collective work and the fact that everyone makes their contribution. It's a symbolic gesture, but I don’t think it’s meaningless. It reveals a philosophy.”
Organic agriculture makes perfect sense
The other very revealing choice, which is much less anecdotal, is organic agriculture. This decision made perfect sense to Pauline Chatin.
“We often reduce organic agriculture to its environmental aspect, and that’s fair enough. But organic agriculture is above all about protecting people who could have had to apply dangerous chemicals. I didn't want us to be responsible for introducing the sector to people and making them want to work in it, if it meant putting them in contact with potentially dangerous chemicals.”
The other advantage that Pauline almost forgot to specify is that if you know how to work with organic agriculture, you know how to work using conventional methods too. The opposite is not true. The employees therefore do not have any doors closed to them.
The Societe Generale Foundation has been supporting Vigne de Cocagne’s initiatives since 2020.
First of all, by enabling them to finish their conversion to organic agriculture by buying an inter-vine tool that enables them to mechanically weed young vines without using any chemicals. Thanks to this tool, Vigne de Cocagne has been certified organic since September 2020.
Then, by enabling the farm to increase its cultivated surface area with a view to possible financial independence in future. This expansion was also an opportunity to recreate corridors of biodiversity and recruit more employees on reintegration programmes.
Finally, the aim of this support is to develop the organisation’s sales. After having initially planned to focus on sales to restaurants (an idea that came at the wrong time with the closure of restaurants), Vigne de Cocagne refocused on direct sales and on wine tourism. Holding a market on the estate with other local producers and organising tasting evenings and concerts brought the place to life and introduced it to people.
For a short moment, they could let themselves be buoyed by the energy of all these projects and think that the difficult period was behind them. However, the winter freeze was a heavy blow leading to the loss of some of the young vines, as well as some of the oldest.
Pauline, however, refuses to complain, arguing that all French vines were affected. Each year is different and brings its share of ‘catastrophes’.
It’s a difficult job, Pauline warned us. Yet, she wouldn’t change it. This project enables her to play her part in response to the major social and environmental challenges.
For once, I wanted wine, which is a very noble and quite prestigious product, to help people with difficult lives and make them proud, giving them back a sense of professional and personal dynamism.
Pauline Chatin, founder and manager of Vigne de Cocagne
To support Vigne de Cocagne and order their wines, please visit their online shop (https://boutique.vignedecocagne.fr/collections/all) or directly from the Domaine de Mirabeau (Fabrègues - Hérault)
Copyright : © Cyril Badet