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, 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. 😀 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!
- 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?
Today is a surprise party for BourgogneLive, an exceptionally dynamic web blog that runs on hopes and dreams in the Bourgogne region of France. If you think I’m insane to spend so much time on the web, you need to meet Aurélien Ibanez and François Desperrier. They’re not even winemakers. They’re not even wine merchants. They just really like wine. And so they blog. And boy, do they blog.
It’s great for the Bourgogne. They bring a breath of fresh air and a very contemporary understanding of online communication. They know the value of exchange. Bourgogne Live is an asset to their region. (Sound familiar?)
I think they’re appropriate representatives of the region, and I’ve long promised to write a sort of essay on the similarities between regional wine bloggers and their respective regions, and this seems like a perfect place to start it. It’s actually probably one of the hardest for me to do because I know much less about Bourgogne than other wine regions, and what I do have to convey is sort of a gestalt feeling …. but stick with me.
Bourgogne is one of France’s great old wine regions. And despite my profound love of the Languedoc and Roussillon, I concede that we are not nearly as prominent in the public imagination as Burgundy and Bordeaux. Those two poles of France defined French wine for a long time. And they also sit at odds in many ways.
The most obvious difference to prove is that Bordeaux is characterized by much larger estates. Bourgogne is famous for tiny clos with very small cuvees. In this respect, the Bourgogne is more human-scaled and feels more artisanal. Think of the word clos versus the word chateau.
Somebody once told me that Bordeaux winemakers historically eat at long rectangular tables where one person sits at the head and presides. And that in older tables, there is a drawer at the end where the head of table keeps the bread and .. I don’t know.. other goodies. There are two seats directly to the president’s side, and they have the best access to the head of the table. Then as you move down the table, you get farther and farther from the head. It’s all very stratified. But Burgundian winemakers sit at round tables. This could be totally made up for all I know, but the image stayed with me.
Bourgogne, a region for the democratic and egalitarian wine drinker. Or the egalitarian and democratic wine blogger! BougogneLive comes with the same spirit of open, human-scale interaction. They are approachable. They are many. They are not WSET certified, seventh generation winemakers with doctorates in oenology. They are dudes who like wine. And they try to open as many doors as possible for as many people as possible. It’s also appropriate that they don’t limit themselves to writing about Bourgogne. They write about silly wine videos, wine merchandise, gastronomy, elephant winemakers, and just about anything they feel like.
I’ll admit my knowledge of Burgundy is lacking. But my image of the Bourgogne is that it is small, human, artisanal, and open. And that is how BourgogneLive feels to me too. So, kudos to those boys. May they keep blogging. And may somebody in their region have the good sense to start paying them for it. Because the day they quit (heaven forbid) there will be an enormous vacuum. And Bourgogne will lose a really golden opportunity.
So three cheers! And may they KEEP BLOGGING.