Terroir is a “right-wing idea”? Could have fooled me

terroir_right_wingStephen Erlanger, the Paris bureau chief of the NY Times, holds forth on the notion of terroir in the opinion page.

The concept is fascinating for its power to readjust markets along quality lines for products that might be prone to commoditization (hmm, I recall reading a brilliant book about this somewhere. . .). It’s clearly political since lines have to be drawn somewhere and those outside the zone might even stage bloody protests, as happened in Champagne 100 years ago, for example. The idea could be interpreted as conservative since it contributes to propping up a rural, yeoman sort of life.

But Erlanger overreaches when he writes that “The notion of terroir is essentially political, at heart a conservative, even right-wing idea.” There’s nothing right-wing about it: I haven’t heard Marine Le Pen on the stump arguing for the AOC by saying, “Long live Volnay! Down with vin de table!”

Although terroir is a powerful concept, it has limitations administratively as the AOC system has shown. Also, it’s not the only way to signal quality or even protect quality, as a company brand (estate name) can often serve as a better indicator of quality than simply reading the place name. Also, if you’re looking for a product that’s made in a certain way–Biodynamically grown, fair-trade certified–there are tons of organizations that offer third-party certifications that have little or nothing to do with terroir.

Erlanger concludes his piece with a doozy: “The preservation of terroir is finally a kind of unwritten conspiracy between the farmers and the wealthy, as well as the bourgeois bohemians of the big cities, who will pay more for quality, for freshness, for artisanal craft and for that undefinable authenticity that is the essence of terroir.”

Ah, bourgeois bohemians–I thought David Brooks had his own space on the op-ed page? But, really, a “conspiracy”? Sorry, but I didn’t know that tin-foil hats came in AOC styles.

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10 Responses to “Terroir is a “right-wing idea”? Could have fooled me”

  1. One of the stranger things about the article is that it’s filed under “NEWS ANALYSIS”

    And it’s a very strange analysis.

    “The notion of terroir is essentially political”?! To the hammering man, everything looks like a nail so it must follow that to political reporters everything looks like politics.

    “at heart a conservative, even right-wing idea”? In the same way that conservation is conservative and thus obviously right-wing.

    And then the conspiracy theory. . .

    Is this a spoof?

  2. It seems to me that the notion of terroir is just plain old common sense. The many conditions-–the weather, the land, the people, etc. etc.-–that affect wine made in a particular spot combine to create terroir. For various reasons, it’s often made to seem more complicated than it really is. To call it a political right-wing idea seems ridiculous to me.

  3. NYTimes or The Onion ???

  4. Good Read Cheers

  5. Disagree with his “analysis” but love your comment about David Brooks.

  6. It could have been worse. It could have been written by Thomas Friedman in which case the conclusion would have been that only the Chinese have proper terroir and all other winegrowing regions must learn to “reconcept” themselves in order to compete in a flat world.

  7. I always wonder why WA and OR growers don’t attack French and other old world growers for producing foxy wines grown on foxy (American) roots. Surely the terroir is fatally compromised. Not that I believe that, but why give a sucker (victims of American vine root disease) a break?

  8. RobLL

    There are consumers who believe that if vines weren’t planted on their own roots, the terroir and the resulting wine suffers. They are all right wingers, of course 😉

  9. The notion that terroir is soley a political and even conservative creation is silly at best. I have a great amount of experience throughout the North Coast region of California with numerous vineyards and land. The combination of soils, temperature, aspect, air movement (wind), etc… most certainly has an impact on the final result. Even within a few acres the “terroir” can change dramatically. That said, dropping the concept of terroir on an average person picking up a bottle of wine at the grocery store may sound a little overbearing. Kind of like taking your car for a tune up and having someone someone give you a lecture on how your engine works. Most people don’t care, they just enjoy their wine and a fine tuned car.

  10. Calling the appellation system “right wing” risks conflating simple traditionalism with blood-and-soil nationalism. A culture might need some of the former, but it surely needs none of the latter.


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