SLOW FOOD FRANCE - Terroir and Environment
Without wishing to delve too deeply into current breast-beating debates about appellation controllee it is worth looking at the manifesto of a group of French growers who are questioning the concepts and practices of the AOC and wish to contribute to a debate inaugurated by a steering committee set up by the French government a few years ago. Part of a proposed “new dynamic of French wine for 2010” was “to become leader in practices that are respectful of the environment”.
The growers have a specific agenda beyond the vague accord of “respect”. The primary tenet is that each wine shall be the full expression of its terroir; that each wine “be good, healthy, great and structured when the conditions permit this” above all, that these wines give people a desire to drink them, wines simply and solely made from the grapes of our (sic) vineyards, wines which have the peculiar characteristics of our grape varieties, of our particular terroirs, of our special characters “our common will is to work our soil while respecting nature, as craftsmen seeking harmony between nature and man”
The expression “labouring the soil” recurs in the manifesto. Everyone has their different approaches and their own history as a winemaker, but all are linked by certain aims. Although the practices in the vines and the cellars could never be codified in a strict charter, there is a rational attempt to tie together essential common practice. The priorities are: the life of the soil; a search for terroir; selection massale; the attachment to historic grape varieties and the refusal of the increasing trend to plant standard varieties; the use of organic treatments; the search for good vine health through natural balance; the refusal of GMOs; the prudent use of chemical plant treatments; the search for full maturity; manual harvests; the respect for the variability of vintages; the refusal to chaptalize systematically; natural fermentations; a sparing or zero use of SO2; minimum or no filtration; the refusal of standard definition of taste of wines by certain enological or market trends; the possibility of experimenting and questioning different aspects of work; respect of history, of roots.
Most of the growers in our list make wines in a specific context of geography, geology, climate, history and cultural specificity that leaves open the possibility for maximum expression of personality and individuality. Tasting, analytical and organoleptic examination, consumer acceptance panels, however, can stifle creativity and become a “guillotine to submit nature and the winemaker’s personality to a rule”. Instead of becoming an instrument for standardization, tastings must become an instrument to check the respect of diversity. This requires a massive philosophical shift on behalf of those arbiters of appellation controllee, as well as tasters, journalists and the public itself. By understanding and promoting typicity and by espousing natural or organic practices in the vineyard, the Slow Food growers are creating a sensible foundation for a renewed appellation controllee system, one that rewards richness of diversity and complexity.