The Domaine de Vassal repository was created in 1949 on the initiative of Prof. Jean Branas, then-holder of the Chair of Viticulture at the Montpellier Agricultural School (today Montpellier SupAgro). It was intended to relay the rich ampelographic collections initiated as early as 1876 by Prof. Gustave Foëx on the School premises, and then progressively augmented, notably by Prof. Louis Ravaz. In the wake of WWII, sanitary problems combined with urbanization pressures led to the transfer of the collection to a site of appropriate durability with better sanitary guaranties.
The Vassal site, on the sandy barrier beach separating the Thau lagoon from the Mediterranean, was chosen because of the characteristics of its sands. These sands indeed contain very little clay, which makes them inhospitable for two major grapevine pests: the root form of the phylloxera aphid and the Xiphinema index nematode, vector of the fan-leaf virus. Grapevines can thus be grown on their own roots, i.e. without any need for a rootstock.
For the past 140 years, this collection has been continuously enhanced through various gifts (Botanical Garden of Montpellier, Museum of Natural History in Paris, Parc de la Tête d’Or Botanical Garden in Lyon, Beaune School for Burgundy Wines, Antibes Horticultural School, Saumur collection, Oberlin collection in Colmar, viticulturists, nursery operators, hobbyists…). It has also been enriched through various collecting missions performed in France with regional partners or abroad either by scientists such as Profs Denis Boubals and Pierre Galet or with Research Institutes. Dr Paul Truel, former director of the collection from 1952 to 1985, was greatly instrumental in the introduction, description, and precise identification of numerous grapevine varieties. Today still, an average of eighty accessions from France or other grape-growing countries are included every year in the grapevine BRC.
Paul Truel (1952-1985), Claude Rennes (1985-1996), Thierry Lacombe (1998-2002), Didier Varès (2003-2006), Christophe Clipet (2007), Blaise Genna (2009-2014).