An important book, so worth a little delving into the detail. I purchased it in the Athenaeum bookshop in Beaune for 28 Euros – it doesn’t seem to be listed on Amazon at this time.
A quick flip through the contents and contributors (interviewees) and this is a book that looks like it should be worth the outlay – each author somehow touching on the subject of terroir and the winemaker.
It’s one of the few of Jacky’s books that I’ve seen translated from his native French, he doesn’t speak English himself, or at least the one time we had a conversation I had the impression that his English was worse than my French – in itself quite an achievement! – and maybe I can already spot a contributing factor to my early difficulty with this tome; it’s the language… well mainly!
Some early ‘niggles’ were:
- The Language. There can be something special about French translated into English – particularly on a corporate level – just look at the corporate communications of any major French company; the language is cringingly flowery and usually devoid of any real meaning – I had a real sense of ‘deja-vu‘ while reading the introduction of this book – they must have same translation agency!
- Misplaced Ideology. A major ‘slant’ of this book is the rejection of those Anglo-Saxon (more of that later) ‘technical’ or ‘industrial drinks’ more in common with cola than wine, ‘drinks’ which apparently portend the end of diversity and culture. My own perspective is somewhat different; I see these ‘technical’ wines engaging a brand new audience i.e. one that is in addition to the existing audience, and that a certain percentage of those new drinkers will look to broaden their horizons and effectively increase the global market for let us call them ‘terroir wines’. Let us also not forget that a) wine consumption is increasing and b) there are many harder jobs than selling a well-made wine. I emphasise ‘well-made’ because we wouldn’t want terroir to be used as an excuse for bad wine now would we…
- With Jacky. I don’t have a problem with much of his prose idolising Henri Jayer – anyway a reasonable choice – rather, and because of his academic background, I would have liked him to take a slightly more ‘modatorial’ stance vis-a-vis his contributors – but no, he nails his ‘terroirist’ credentials to the mast very early:
“The bottle not only contains the fruit of the vine served by technique, it also reveals singularity of place, transcended by man’s labours, which often demands slow maturation so as to reveal the full terroir complexity.”
See what I mean about language – this would, for example, be better placed on Boisset’s website. It seems that I’m also a major part of the problem because I’m a card carrying member of the “dominating Anglo-Saxon culture”, this term is peppered through the opening pages; Anglo-Saxon being used in each case as a negative reference point. One assertion that amazed me after just finishing the excellent Phylloxera, was the following:
“For example, many winegrowers who refused to admit that phylloxera could be contained by the use of natural predators, were persuaded to resort to using American rootstock…”
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but no such suitable ‘natural predator’ was ever found, and although I know there is some research in returning the vines to their own ‘feet’ I’m not aware of anything approaching commercial reality – oops I suppose that’s an Anglo-Saxon (commercial) point of view! Let us also be clear; if there had been a fledgling gene therapy in the late 1800’s, you can be sure that someone would have inserted an anti-louse gene and everyone would have been very happy – regardless of the current distrust the technique engenders. I’m not saying I fully trust the technique, but in such times of hardship it would have been done, no question!
At one stage I found myself rather laughing at one contributor’s assertion that a ‚terrior wine’ from Burgundy could not really show the terroir if the oak didn’t come from Burgundy. Should I labour this point? – Okay; how many oak forests do you know in Vosne, Chambolle or Gevrey – hmm, seems they all come from quite some distance away in Burgundy – further away than (say) Vougeot to Aloxe, but mix the grand Crus of Clos Vougeot with Corton and what do you have? – regional wine, Bourgogne Rouge. This is not terroir.
Anyway one assumes that as we get into the ‘meat’ of the book, i.e. the contributions of 48 wine producers from across the globe (of course 42 are from France – 31 from Burgundy), that this will take a turn for the better. An early contribution from Jacques Perrin failed to light my fire, though one from Jean-Louis Laplanche – academic and former owner of the Château de Pommard – was good. The monographs that follow, range from extremist (Charlopin) to the anarchic (Dagenau), from the thought provoking (Lafon) to the compellingly mad (Lardière or Joly – to your taste!). One might reasonably assume that 48 monographs on the same subject might become rather laboured – but this is largely avoided and they are all great sources for quotes!
Whilst I was perhaps a little harsh of Jacky’s pre-amble, the juxtaposition of some articles and indeed his (presumably) introductions to the people concerned often do him no favour; for example about Nadine Gubine;
“…this remarkable winetaster, recognised as such by her peers, applies herself to making all these wonderful Grand Crus sing as precisely and harmoniously as possible…”
I’ve not yet had the good fortune to meet Nadine, but given that we are talking about the Jacques Prieur estate which has certainly not been the brightest star of recent years, and that this is dovetailed to a truly excellent article by Dominique Lafon did make me laugh. Talking of laughing, if you want real fun try reading the contribution by Jacques Lardière – he comes across as some sort of completely mad scientist – I was impressed, but didn’t understand a word!
One of my favourite parts was the ‘interview’ with Claude Bourguignon – fascinating, but maybe that’s my scientific Anglo-Saxon perspective.
For all my quibbles – and I would say that about 50% of the content did little to inspire me – I can heartily recommend this book because it contains some truly inspiring material and this remaining 50% is absolutely worth the outlay.