French Wine: A History
Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. US$34.95. Available on-line at amazon.com and University of California Press, as well as in book stores.
I’m a lover of both France and its wines, so it gave me great pleasure to write this first English-language history of French wine. The story starts two and a half millennia ago, when wine was introduced by Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans to the beer-drinking Celts of ancient France. I discuss the connection between wine and Christianity, the emergence of a wine trade in the Middle Ages, the development of wine styles such as claret and sparkling wines, the recognition of prestigious regions (especially Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne), the impact of wars, revolutions, climate, and vine diseases and pests on wine, as well as fraudulent and counterfeit wines, wine laws, wine consumption patterns, and the global reputation of French wine. I also look at the way wine has related to health, gender, religion, and class in France.
One of the major things I do in the book is explode many of the myths about French wine: that there is such a thing as “tradition” in winemaking, for example, and that the French figured out how to match grape varieties and vineyard sites hundreds of years ago. I call into question the usefulness of terroir when discussing French wine and I rehabilitate the much-maligned Algerian wine, which was vital to the survival of French wine between 1890 and the 1950s. The story of French wine shows that it has been reinvented several times during its long history, and I suggest that what we now call French wine was largely a result of the period following the Second World War.
My point is that French wine doesn’t need myths, any more than Champagne needs the myth of Dom Pérignon: champagne is terrific without the fiction of the blind monk discovering sparkling wine in his cellar, and French wine has enough stars without myths of Burgundian monks chewing vineyard dirt to discover terroir.