Stephen 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.
Factions in France, a country whose national image has historically been intertwined with wine, are waging a bizarre campaign against wine. They opened a new front in their battle last week: trying to ban blogs and social media from talking about wine.
The initiative, part of a report from Professor Michel Reynaud with the cheery name “Damage related to addictions and strategies for reducing the damage,” would seek to limit promotion of wine in the internet, extending and updating the 1991 Evin law. Winery websites would be exempt but Decanter has a summary; the full report is available in full as pdf here.
“We need to formally ensure that no media about alcohol can be aimed at young people, or potentially seen by young people, including the internet (except producer sites) and social networks,” Reynaud writes on p. 56.
Clearly, this is absurd. Not being able to discuss wine at all also means not being able to discuss how to consume wine in moderation or with food. Or its role in history, culture and economics. Or its plant biology, making it a forbidden fruit. The report is out of step with discussion on the internet, unenforceable, and is as boneheaded as it is blunt in its proposals.
Fortunately, an effort with a petition has emerged, called “Touche Pas a Mon Vingernon.”
Another symbol of France–wine–is being threatened with a 1,000% tax increase. Will riots break out across the country?
Who is the man with a set of grapes big enough to dare provoke the ire of the French winegrowers and wine consumers? It’s Yves Daudigny, a socialist senator from Aisne (“The Fightin’ Aisne”) in Picardie. I bet they don’t even make wine in Picardie! Wait, what’s that, Jimmy? Champagne is partially in Aisne, Senator Daudigny’s district? Okay, scratch that.
The Senator is clearly a tough nut to crack. Last year he proposed a 300% tax on palm oil in what was dubbed the “Nutella tax.” Mmm, taxes so high you can spread them on your bread in the morning.
Now he’s unleashing his tax machine on the wine industry, proposing to raise the tax from three euro cents to €0.30-€0.60 a bottle! This would bring it inline with beer and spirits. But we all know that beer and spirits deserve that tax. Was there ever a black and white photograph of a child toting a six-pack and a bottle of Johnny Walker under his arm? Non, monsieur!
Senator Daudigny, taxing wine in France is like taxing being French! It’s un-French to even consider it! Moreover, why would you want people to drink less wine? The wine industry is struggling because French people are not drinking enough of the stuff. If you really want a radical reform, try uncorking a take-your-wine-to-work day. Or Hug a Vigneron day. Or how about a subsidy for French wine? It’s already so expensive that people in Hong Kong are bidding bottles to stratospheric levels! Or subsidize hipster wines from the Jura or the Loire to jumpstart exports to Williamsburg and San Francisco.
Don’t make the winegrowers stage protests outside your office with pitchforks and corkscrews!
Over the past month, a refugee tried to sell assets in his home country, bought a tiny house in a neighboring country, and took a passport from a third. It was none other than bon vivant Gerard Depardieu, who fled France, listed his $65 million Paris apartment, bought a house in Belgium a stone’s throw from the French border, and then received a Russian passport two days ago from Putin (wonder what they uncorked? Putin is a teetotaler.). Depardieu is fleeing a possible 75% tax on incomes above 1 million euros in France (though the proposal got struck down by the high court and its fate is unknown).
There is a slight wine angle to all this. Depardieu has said he could drink five bottles of wine a day, so wherever he goes, there may be a bump in the consumption figures. Seriously, will this naturalized citizen be a wine ambassador to Russia (even culturally, assuming he’s not around too much)? Depardieu owns Chateau Tigné in Anjou and is involved in several other wine projects with Bernard Magrez and Michel Rolland. Incidentally, in a lengthy interview with Decanter in 2009, he professed to being an Italophile, saying “I love Italian culture.” But, seemingly, not their tax rate either.
What do you think of his actions: treasonable or reasonable?
Thanks to social media, you can always tell how badly you’re drinking compared to everyone else. And on this Monday night, when I didn’t think I was doing too badly with some delicious Indian takeout and a pint of Sweet Action. But, whoa, was I wrong.
Tonight there’s a big northern Rhone dinner going down at Bar Boulud. Sommelier Mike Madrigale tweeted from the scene that it was the “Greatest wine dinner ever put on here.” Now that is saying something. He also tweeted the menu that included four vintages of Joseph Jamet, Auguste Clape, Verset & Gentaz-Devrieux. These are pretty rare, especially since Marius Gentaz retired in 1993 and died last year (read more on his rare wines); Noel Verset stopped making wines in the early 2000s. The event was billed as “The Golden Age of Cote Rotie and Cornas,” featuring 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991.
Okay, stop drooling now!
What if Beaujolais Nouveau day–the third Thursday in November–turned into a celebration of Beaujolais writ large or even larger, wine? According to a report in a British wine publication, that’s what happened yesterday in parts of London.
It’s a good idea. While a friend who just left Paris after living there for several years recalls Beaujolais Nouveau day as the most wonderfully exciting wine day of the year, overseas, the decades-old marketing idea is tired. It’s contrived. It has a unnecessarily large carbon footprint. And 99% of the wines are underwhelming tutti fruity concoctions that serve to qualitatively undermine the name of the whole region. A few shops and restaurants in New York City dutifully stock some bottles of Nouveau but few take too many since what they say about white shoes after Labor Day has an analogy in Beaujolais Nouveau after New Year’s Day.
So I say capture the fun, the celebration, and ditch the nouveau. While slaying the region’s sacred cash cow may seem radical, and recognizing the economic difficulties in the region, after the success of the Summer of Riesling, maybe we need a November of Beaujolais to help the region transition away from Nouveau?
Did you attend any launch events yesterday? What did you think?
Have you ever noticed that box wine doesn’t chill itself? Or thought the fridge somehow seems too full or plebeian for such a majestic thing as box wine? Or you are nostalgic for the kegerator days of yore? Well, then, say hello to Freshbag, a mini wine fridge, just for box wine.
The Freshbag has three settings, one each for rosé, white and red. Keep em all chilled and ready for when unexpected guests drop by. Fitting both three or five liter formats, Freshbag has got you covered. And when it’s not in use, it takes up space in your cabinet. All that for a mere $250 at stores in France.
La Gramiere’s wine tasting truck (see inset of truck before Amy pimped her ride)
Have you eaten lunch or ice cream from a food truck and thought there was something missing? I have. Where’s the wine truck? It has been found in the south of France.
Amy Lillard, an American who is living the dream of making wine in the Rhone under her La Gramiere label, recently posted a picture to Facebook of her newly refurbished wine truck. She details the conversion of the Citroen on her blog saying that the truck will serve as a mobile tasting room:
We’re going to do evening tastings with tapas and wine, sometimes in our vineyards as the sun goes down, sometimes in the surrounding villages! We are also going to be inviting guest “vignerons” to pour their wines along with ours, and guest chefs to cook for us! Sounds fun doesn’t it?
Good to see that the turn in French wine policy toward the puritanical hasn’t prevented such creativity. Of course, licensing laws in the US give this a 0.0001% chance of ever happening here. So get your fix in France. The Super Camion de Dégustation was last seen at the evening market in Uzès…