Thursday, November 10, 2016

The concept of terroir in 18th-century France, Part II: The wind beneath its wings

The concept of terroir had begun its rise from the ashes during the first half of the18th-century and continued that ascent during the century's remaining years. In 1765, Louis de Jaucourt, writing in the 17th volume of Diderot and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie, elaborated on the specific flavor characteristics that a wine from a specific region needed to exhibit. According to Parker (Tasting French Terroir), "It was not merely a question of which area yielded the best wine, the most healthful, or the most pure but which produced individualized flavors that were true to their place of origin."

Louis de Jaucourt (

Another force for the good of terroir was the burgeoning Societies d'Agriculture, regional gentlemen's clubs that met monthly for agriculture-themed discussions. The popularity of these clubs in this period was in marked contrast to a condescending attitude towards anything associated with the earth that was characteristic of the late 17th century. It was also a testament to the success of Rousseau's efforts in the current century. This popularity, according to Parker, "... attests to the economic and social transformation of French identity: being close to the earth was in vogue, as long as one didn't get too close."

Mapping France by culinary production also served to frame identity and reinforce the regional nature of terroir. The pioneering effort was the work of Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d'Aussy, a famous culinary writer of his time. His Histoire de la vie privée des Français mapped France according to agricultural production, regions, and characteristics of its inhabitants (Parker).

This pioneering work was replicated and improved upon by a number of writers (see an example below) in the period just after the revolution. The country was in search of itself in that timeframe and culinary maps provided a mechanism for framing identity and expressing nationalism. Parker: "... the phenomenon managed to reinforce terroirs and individualize regions while at the the same time disassociating Paris from the rest of the country."

By Jean François Tourcaty - Cours Gastronomique ou Les Diners
de manant-Ville, ouvrage Anecdotique, Philosophique et Litteraire,
2nd ed., Paris, 1809.Cornell University: Persuasive Cartography:
The PJ Mode Collection, Public Domain,

By the end of the 18th century, the concept of terroir had become recognizably modern. Parker uses the work of one group of canonical agricultural writers to illustrate this point. These writers differentiate between  a natural goût de terroir -- a welcome flavor in wine -- and an artificial goût de terroir -- a defect. The authors perceive the former as "a normal element of the earth's contribution to the wine" and a positive aesthetic aspect. "The flavors that issue from the wine are both caused by the wine, and result from the minerals in the soil, appearing as delicate fragrances (violets, raspberries) and prestigious flavors (truffles)"

Artificial terroir, on the other hand, were unpleasant smells that could be produced in vines and wines as a result of (Parker):
  • Certain plants and trees growing in the vicinity of the vineyard
  • Use of the wrong type of fertilizer
  • Smoke from a lime kiln or charcoal stove.
At the end of the 18th century one could unabashedly say to the proponents of the concept of terroir: "You've come a long way baby."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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