In the words of a French song “Let’s put our love in the washing machine to see if the original colors can come back… Can bleach revive feelings, the whiteness that we thought would last forever…?” The sky hesitates between graphite and lead. An ear on the radio, the red automobile speeds through the green vineyards and the silvery olive trees of the lower side of La Liviniére, a “terrace” as flat as the back of a hand. Rather dramatic black and white scenery. War has been declared. Frightening one-eyed monsters, blue or yellow, armored tanks of Modernity, assail an army of skinny vine stocks, desperate foot soldiers.
I wrote a while ago what I thought of the “grands crus du Languedoc”, an initiative glorified by ad men, and enhanced by a hint of bad politics and introduced as the absolute weapon by which Languedoc would conquer the world. In essence I found all this rather dubious, anachronistic, with a flavor of cheap marketing, neon lights and “wine fairs”. Was this really the right fight for this wine region that had managed, twenty years ago, to connect with a wide audience thanks to a generation of winemakers who were offering beautiful wines at good prices, without pretentiousness? In keeping with one of the weakness of the South of France it seemed as that the authorities were about to put pseudo-Roman columns outside bungalows in the suburbs of Narbonne and Beziers in an effort to make them look like chateaux.
The worst was the form it took. And I was not the only one to object. Jancis Robinson, the strict headmistress of all students of wine wrote an article to say that she found the whole thing rather bizarre; my fellow journalist Michel Smith put in his dollar’s worth (and it was worth it): they had drawn out of a hat a list of bottles, politically very correct but completely artificial and bureaucratic, that ignored the majority of those that were flying the colors of the region: Valette, Barral, Chabandon. Navarre, Old, Pueyo, Carayol, Vaillé and many others. Since then this not so brilliant initiative floundered somehow, and strategists were called back to reason, especially by INAO, the French National Institute of Origin and Quality. As expected, the project is now somewhere in no man’s land, though it still produces expense statements and it certainly costs a lot of money to the vast number of declassified winemakers – who nevertheless pay their union dues.
In short, RIP “Grands Crus du Languedoc”, synthetic still-born products of the excessive classifications of wine. I was thinking about this absurd initiative as we were driving from Minervois to Corbières, having crossed the plain of La Livinière, and entering Boutenac, another declassified Grand Cru. There, too, under a dark sky, the mechanical beaters were already at work: harvesters doing their sinister job. I felt sorry for these frail vines, chained to their tendrils, shaken like apple trees. There are moments when the Mondovino shows a complete absence of logic. Before inventing Chateaux in Languedoc it would have been better to start from the beginning and respect the vine; particularly through harvesting by hand; making love to the vine, not going to war against it.