«The London School of Economics and Political Science Wine In Their Veins: France and the European Community’s Common Wine Policy, 1967-1980 Maria ...»
As soon as one gets to know someone's daily life fairly well, the absence of wine gives a sense of shock, like something exotic: M. Coty57, having allowed himself to be photographed, at the beginning of his seven years' presidency, sitting at home before a table on which a bottle of beer seemed to replace, by an extraordinary exception, the familiar litre of red wine, the whole nation was in a flutter; it was as intolerable as having a bachelor king.
Wine is here a part of the reason of state.
Barthes’s evaluations about the importance of this mythology to the French seems borne out by French self-evaluation of their own identity. In a modern study commissioned by the French government as to what makes the French identity ‘French’, which spawned a seven volume publication, the first three on the list were first, having France as one’s birthplace, second, the defense of liberty, and third, speaking French; in close fourth place was being knowledgeable about and drinking wine. To explain what to some readers would have been a very high ranking for one specific food product – and to some as well, a superficial indicator of identity, particularly given the more apparent and universal seriousness of the first three – the survey’s unsurprised authors stated ‘wine is a part of our history; it’s what defines us.’58 It is tempting to consider the study of the wine market, which was one market of several that ‘M. Coty’ is French president René Coty, who was president when Mythologies was published in 1957. In the end, he was actually in office for five years (from January 16, 1954 to January 8, 1959), and did not serve the maximum term at the time for French presidents, which had been seven years.
Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2001), 6.
occupied the time and energy of the Ministry of Agriculture, as unwarranted without comparable comparative reference to cousins cereals and milk. But wine has a place in the hearts and minds of the French that was and is above their attachment to other kinds of agricultural products. While the French are very attached to their agricultural roots and produce, and the way of life that is connected to it, their most emotional attachment is to wine. That the French government relinquished control over it at all was surprising.
If the identity of French people in general was heavily tied up with wine, this was no where more intense than the attachment of certain vignerons to their farms, vines, and wines, particularly small family farm owners. After all, one might very well wonder why wine has remained the dominant economic force in the Languedoc. For this, there are ‘social and psychological as well as economic factors. The Mediterranean vigneron places a high value on viticulture. His ancestors cultivated grapes and made wine centuries before the unprecedented spread of vines in the nineteenth century, and much of his cultural life and his festivities were and still are integrated with the annual routine of the vineyard. There is an attachment to the soil that is deeply embedded in the vigneron’s psyche which helps explain why so many of them, despite their impecunious condition, remain on the land’.59 While this is unlikely to be limited to winegrowers – the argument could be made of other farmers too – it seemed the Midi vignerons did not think of themselves as being like other farmers. When interviewed in the late 1970s, a vigneron, M. Guillemard, from Côte d’Or was asked if there was such a thing as a viticultural mentality. He was quick to respond that there certainly was, saying ‘it’s a spirit that welcomes you; it loves fun, but it is the honor of the village, of wine, Loubère, The Wine Revolution in France, 161.
of the reputation of great growths,’ with his wife, who worked alongside him, adding, ‘it is entirely different from the mentality of farmers’.60 There are a number of anthropologists, sociologists and historians (though admittedly far fewer of the latter) who have studied the connection between food and identity.61 For almost all of them, their starting point is Claude Fischler’s statement that ‘Food is central to our sense of identity’.62 Marion Demossier’s anthropological work, Wine Drinking Culture in France, aims to examine ‘the various discourses and practices shaping [the] consumption’ of wine in France.63 She analyses the changes of drinking culture, consumption, and cultural identities in a time of rapid modernisation in France. Her work provides many important insights into the culture of consumption of the country; she argues that wine has only since the 1960s become much higher in quality, and that wine consumption, from the 1970s to the present day, has become intertwined with intellectual consumption and specialised study and less a popular, middle-class beverage.
There are several edited volumes which are generally of interest and, if not necessarily methodologically relevant, are still useful for their general observations. Incorporating a greater understanding of insights from food history helps give my work a rounder, more human aspect to a work that might otherwise be entirely focused on dry policy analysis.
Robert Forster and Orest Ranum, in Food and Drink in History, remark that there are three approaches to the subject of food and history, the study of which allows investigation into a wider culture. One of these is economic, an approach which ‘emphasizes not only the production, processing, and marketing of food, but also consumption, including consumer Loubère et al., The Vine Remembers, 170.
There are a large number of books in this field, but some of the most important include Claude Fischler, 'Food, Self and Identity,' Social Science Information 27, no. 2 (1988): 275.
Demossier, Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion, 8.
choices and tastes’64; though my work is not cultural history, it fits well into the concept of this approach. For example, Food in Global History stresses the theme that exchanges between regions and states led to changing identities. In the forward, Raymond Grew argues that the analysis of the production of food lends itself well to broader narratives of historical change: ‘the study of food demonstrates how deeply processes of political and social change can reach into society. No wonder then that commentary on contemporary cuisine is often also a comment on politics, commercialisation, the ecology, and cultural decline.’ 65 Finally, as I have previously mentioned, the collected work Food, Drink, and Identity: Cooking, Eating, and Drinking in Europe since the Middle Ages, edited by Peter Scholliers, contains thought-provoking pieces, but it is Scholliers’ introduction that yields most fruit.
The worlds of French wine and of Brussels institutions alike are filled with a significant number of abbreviations and a list is included to help readers in that regard. A few terms require some more detailed explanation or discussion, however.
This thesis will use the metric system to refer to vineyards and quantities of wine, as this is what is traditionally used in France and therefore in the primary sources. In the wine industry, the usual unit for wine is the hectolitre. A related unit is the hectolitre-degree or degréhectolitre in French, which is the standard unit used in prices and taxes on wines. A price is set per hectolitre of pure alcohol of the finished product. It can appear as ‘degré/hl’ and is often shortened to ‘par degré’ or ‘per degree’ in the English. Vineyards are measured in hectares (with one hectare being approximately 2.46 acres).
Robert Forster and Orest Ranum, eds., Food and Drink in History: Selections from the Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), vii-viii.
Raymond Grew, ed. Food and Global History (Oxford: Westview Press, 1999), 2.
As the hectolitre appears so frequently, it might be useful to attempt to visually conceive of the hectolitre – thinking of ‘one hundred litres’ may not be very helpful. A hectolitre is roughly the contents of a barrel fifty centimetres in diameter and sixty centimetres long and holds roughly eleven cases of wine (that is, 132 bottles of wine). Loubère helpfully adds a further dimension by asking us to consider that ‘To a modest consumer this is a lot of wine, about a year’s supply. To a producer of simple table wine of about ten degrees alcohol, it is scarcely enough to feed, house and clothe his family for more than two days. To a vineyardist of fine grapes, it would allow him a decent living for perhaps seven days if the harvest were of high quality. Volume, therefore, must be viewed not only as magnitude but also as sustenance, as wherewithal.’66 A hectare – that is, 10,000 square meters – is roughly 1.4 international football fields67 and
2.25 American football fields. This would be considered a very small vineyard in France without further qualification. For a family farmer growing table wine, a vineyard of roughly ten hectares could be suitable. But this is of course very different from place to place, for in Champagne this would be an expensive and large property, and in the Languedoc, this would be a smaller than average holding on which a family of four might subsist.68 The French term for a grower or producer of wine is a viticulteur or vigneron. A viticulteur is strictly speaking someone who produces grapes which is later on used for either wine or grapejuice – from the title alone, one cannot conclusively deduce whether or not the individual is involved in the vinification process, that is, the conversion of grapes to wine. A Loubère, The Wine Revolution in France, 4.
This is based on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup parameter ranges for fields for international games.
Loubère, The Wine Revolution in France, 5.
vigneron (the closest English translations are probably ‘vintner’ or ‘wine-maker’) is a grower who is typically also involved in some aspect of converting the grapes to wine (whether that is by performing the fermentation and then later on having someone else be involved in storage, bottling, and potentially blending, or by doing all the steps of the process himself.) In practice, the terms are rarely differentiated. While it may sound strange, and certainly is not entirely logical, as grapes are grown and wine is made, the terms winegrower and winegrowing are used as well. They are justified compromises as English terms to indicate, in the former, a grower of grapes that are to be used for wine, and, in the later, the undertaking of producing these types of grapes (with no presumption about further involvement beyond growing). In this thesis, the terms grower, producer, wine-grower, viticulteur, and vigernon are used interchangeably unless otherwise noted.
Though this thesis focuses on growers, merchants are a small part of the story as well.
Merchants or négociants at this time were traditionally involved in the entrepreneurial side of wine-making. They were responsible for marketing wines and selling them either domestically or finding foreign buyers. Some also bottled and labelled wine, such as those merchants involved in blending wines. These merchants were known as négociant-éléveurs or merchant-blenders (the ‘éléveur’ portion refers to the fact that they mature the wines in their own cellars), and they would work out contracts with producers for this.
The terms viticulture, viniculture, and viti-viniculture appear throughout this thesis.
Viticulture refers to the growing of grape vines, whereas viniculture broadly relates to the body of knowledge of making wine. Viti-viniculture refers to both. The terms table wine and quality wine are heavily used throughout the text. Table wine is sometimes also called ordinary wine, common wine, or wine for current consumption (vin du consommation courante, or VCC). It embodies the kind of wine which was once part of a particular French culture – it was drunk daily, by the family, over meals. By the 1960s and 1970s, this image and use was waning and table wines, for a variety of reasons discussed in this thesis, were becoming less frequently consumed. Instead, quality wines were becoming much more favoured. These were wines that had been produced in a particular location and with particular characteristics and techniques. The untranslatable French term for this is ‘terroir’ which ties taste to place – it refers to a combination of factors, including geography, geology, and climate, but this basic description would doubtless be unsatisfactory to many French people who would likely find it too clinical.
The official term for quality wines under the CWP is in the English known as QWPSR (‘quality wine produced in a specified region) but it is far more commonly referred to in all languages by its French acronym VPQRD (‘vins de qualité produits dans des régions déterminées’). For wine to be recognised as VPQRD, winemakers had to apply first to their government with their claims to the status – the member state government then submitted their VPQRD list to the Commission for final approval. This allowed national governments to set stricter regulations than the minimum regulations provided for by the eventual common wine policy.