It was while visiting Aubert de Villaine way back in 2005 that he recommended this book to me, and despite it only (at that time) being available in French, I picked up a copy. It’s probably a measure of my French niveau that I recollect scarcely a thing – except for a quote to the effect ‘when I drink Burgundy, I piss Bordeaux’ – not sure how I remembered that one!
Anyway, once the English translation came out I felt compelled to revisit, and I’m pleased that I did. This book is about the histories and interactions of and between France’s two great wine regions – Burgundy and Bordeaux – effectively the ‘how and why’ the regions are as we know them today. It’s not just about how one region uses merlot and the other pinot, rather it is how history, politics and their respective trading partners shaped the regions as we see them today.
This is such a thoughtful and studied book and it manages, as close as possible, to toe a very difficult line that seems bias free – a tough task, you can be sure! Excellently researched, some 50 of its 230 pages are given over to detailed references and a bibliography – though I note that the one quote that I remembered from the edition en Français seems to have migrated from the main text to the reference section – maybe it sounded better in French!
Translations can always be tricky, but this really is a first-class piece of work – it is beautifully written. Not just a book for the shelf, this deserves to be revisited over and over, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ll leave you with a few quotes:
There is more history than geography in a bottle of wine.
Bordeaux is made in the sun, Champagne in the cellar, and Burgundy in the soil.
The very idea of garage wine, as we shall see, exasperates some connoisseurs and critics. Their annoyance is misplaced, for no-one is obliged to buy over-priced wines.
A certain number of domaines have embraced the methods either of organic agriculture or a stricter version, biodynamics, formulated in the early twentieth century by the German philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who nonetheless condemned the consumption of wine.
Blight was rampant in the 1970s and up until 1985. The use of potash (potassium) was encouraged by a government viticulture official, André Vedel, who recommended the staggering proportion of 2,400 kilograms (more than 5 thousand pounds) per hectare; see Renvoisé, Le Monde du Vin,222. The potash mines may have been shut down in Alsace, but they could have been reopened in the vineyards of Burgundy. It needs to be kept in mind that its effects are not transient, since potash remains in the soil for a very long time.