Terroir: hocus-pocus?

I shall try to recall the text I wrote as my answer in the final exam for the viticulture course of my masters degree.  We were supposed to pick a side for the debate.  The following text does not imply that I am constantly against the concept and catch-cry of some producers in the world, it is there to show points that terroir lovers should not ignore.

"Terroir"; with its highly diverse set of definitions; means different things to different people.

For some it means the micro climate, for others it means the uniqueness of a location, then comes a myriad of other explanations, theories and definitions of a faith in this word that verges on religious fervour.  Quality is attainable through other ways, not just through a mystical word that romaticises a geographical place and all the rules, regulations and laws that come with maintaining the image of that particular location.

Even though its proponents deny it, they use the word “terroir” in very much a marketing way.  They “pitch” this word as a simile for “tradition and history are better than everything else because we have been doing it HERE longer than you.”

With its tight laws, rules and regulations, producers from “terroir” areas are more sensitive to global market forces and need consistent subsidies from their government when things go badly for them, because the very rules they put up to defend themselves prevent them from adapting to survive.

It is an oxymoron for a collective group to insist that each of its parts is unique because if we are all unique, then we are the same (since we would be sharing at least one similarity: uniqueness).

In its simplest definition, “terroir” literally means land (similar to “territory” in English), so any opponent would be right to say “our dirt is every bit as good as their dirt” - yes, even Johnny-comes-lately producers can say this.  So it would be arrogant and chauvinistic of “terroir” proponents to state that not only is their way better; it is the ONLY way.

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A global result from the teaming of “small towns”

Well, this isn’t exactly “breaking news” anymore, because the article is dated 18th May 2010.  Nonetheless it’s still worth noting the effects of what has happened.

For those of you who understand German, it would be worth it to read the original article before reading this blog entry.  

Here is the original article:

http://www.ptext.de/pressemitteilung/vitalie-taittinger-laetizia-riedel-roethlisberger-baten-prickelnden-abend-72739

To summarise the article, Taittinger the champagne house and Riedel the glass-making company have teamed-up for an evening event in Munich where “who’s who” of the media, gastronomy, and commerce were present.

The first significant aspect about this event is not how it is yet another P.R. soirée, it is rather the locations of the businesses.  Both Taittinger and Riedel are based in “small towns”.  Reims (home of Taittinger) has a population around 188,000 and Kufstein (home of Riedel) has a population of around 17,000.

The second significant aspect is the representatives of the two companies.  Vitalie Taittinger (her title is “artistic director”) and Laetizia Riedel (legal advisor of Riedel Glass) personify the next generation of their respective family businesses.  

For a photo of the two ladies, please go to the following link:

http://www.ahgz.de/maerkte-und-unternehmen/Champagner-Schmale-Form-fuer-feine-Perlen,200012175528.html

Even though Taittinger and Riedel are known around the world, we should remind ourselves to look beyond the glitz and glamour and see that they still remain family businesses.  Despite being based in small towns, when companies team-up, they create global results.

Funny how what we see as globalisation could at times be localisation…

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And the capital of Champagne is…?

After a trip to the location, I have gotten to witness first hand the two polarising views about which of the two cities, Reims vs. Épernay, deserves the title of “capital of champagne”.  This blog entry is not here to give a definitive answer, because at the end of the day, it is a matter of personal opinion.  So, to help you decide which city you think should make the claim as the Capital of Champagne, let’s state some facts about them:

Reims 

Pros:

  • A city steeped in history, it boasts THE cathedral where the Kings of France from ages of old were crowned.  Therefore it is like what Cantebury is to England and what Aachen is to Germany.  If you consider champagne a “royal” drink, then perhaps this point would persuade you.
  • Many well-known champagne brands (a.k.a. “grandes marques”) are based in Reims.  When you’ve checked in early the next time you are at an airport, walk over to the duty free shopping area and read the labels.  You’ll find that many such brands available in those shops are based in Reims.

Cons:

  • There are no vineyards in the vicinity of the city.
  • The city is not entirely devoted to champagne; it is also the home to other industries.  This results in no concentration of champagne “houses” (headquarters).  They are spread all across the city.

Épernay

Pros:

  • The industry of champagne dominates the way of life in the city.  All the famous champagne “houses” (headquarters) that are based in Épernay are on the appropriately named “Avenue de Champagne”.
  • There are vineyards in the vicinity of Épernay.

Cons:

  • It is smaller than Reims and not as well known, unless you’re a champagne enthusiast.
  • There are only a few world famous brand to be located in Épernay.  Basically, this city is home to ultra-premium brands but mainstream consumers are more likely to have heard of Pommery than Pol Roger.

You might not agree with the points I’ve made.  You might debate with me by correctly pointing out that champagne is made from a blend of grapes from different vineyards, so it doesn’t matter if Reims doesn’t have any close by while Épernay does.  In the end, it is up to you to decide which of the two should be considered the capital of champagne. 

Please leave your opinion in the comments section below or reblog this entry.

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Swiss wine

Before boarding my train back from Switzerland, I stopped by a supermarket/deli section of a local chain of stores called “Loeb” (the Swiss-German pronouncation sounds something like: “low-ebb”).

I’ve tried Swiss wines before; reds and whites, dessert and still, at my own leisure and at the ProWein wine fair in Düsseldorf, Germany.  However, this time would be different, because I will share this with red wine with friends.  

Let’s test their knowledge and see how ready they are for their WSET exam:

-“Blauburgunder”

-From Scherzingen (“Shayr-tsing-en”), which is located in canton Thurgau (they should know how the name “Thurgau” gained its fame)

-Landwein

By the way, it’s called “Vollmondwein” (“full moon wine”).  Let’s see who’s affected by the full moon enough to dare to try it.

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