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Jacky Rigaux – Importance of Terroir lecture at Université de la Vigne et du Vin

I had the pleasure of hearing Jacky Rigaux speak at the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in 2011 in Ferrals les Corbieres.  This is a synopsis of his lecture and my reaction to what he’s saying.  This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.

jacky rigaux

jacky rigaux

Jacky Rigaux, Université de Bourgogne – Terroir is the best way to promote French wines.

A rather professorly lecture that reminded me of my political science days at Tulane University.  The main message was that France can only maintain/increase wine sales by focusing on terroir.  Rigaux drew a clear line between “vin de technologie” and “vin de lieu”.  Other dichotomies included “mineralité” vs “sucrosité”.  And finally “culture” vs. “business”.  And the speech concludes with the notion that wine should be marketed to illuminated niche markets.  He has this beautiful notion of a multitude of niches creating islands of resistance against homogenized, industrial wine.

I felt the presentation was engaging and full of good quotes and anecdotes (“Cepage is a first name, but terroir is the family name”), but it was slightly reductionist.  I tend to overcomplicate things and I shy away from people who try to explain things too simply.  :D  In Jacky’s view, industrial wine and the notion of blind tasting were sort of invented in the 1970’s, mostly by the new world.  As Berthomeau would point out later in the day, the French have mass produced wine, sold it by brand, and deviated from terroir since long before the 70’s.  And actually, Rigaux himself concedes that Bordeaux’s chateau denomination has been promoting personal brand over geographical origin for quite some time.  (He’s from Burgundy so he can’t help but slam Bordeaux at least once in his speech. :D)

Another thing that bothered me a bit was that the pairings of culture and business are not mutually exclusive.  You can create a wine that preserves and champions culture all while doing great business.  I know that Rigaux is smart enough to realize that.  But he really seems to believe that we should favor terroir to the detriment of everything else, and I’m not sure that’s our only option.  I think terroir/lieu/place is unavoidable and can stand above everything else.  It’s not terroir vs. technique.  It should be technique services terroir.  Similarly business can serve terroir and wine style (minerality/sucrosity) can serve terroir.  It’s never an either/or issue.  It’s usually an issue of the relationship between all these parts.  And ultimately, I’d even say that good wine is an end in and of itself.  And it’s impossible to create a single monolithic standard for what makes wine good.  It’s about context and enjoyment, points which would come up later in the day!

random ideas:

  • blind tasting is part of the scientific method’s effect on winemaking
  • cepage est un prenom, le nom de famille c’est le terroir
  • does Bordeaux’s classification system count as terroir or branding?
  • The largest Aussie producer has more hectares of vines than ALL of Burgundy
  • is it silly to fuss over terroir when most French drink wine out of ridiculous, unsuitable glasses that hide all the wine’s traits?

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