Wine Talk

Snooth User: barri0s1872

"Ancient" Decrees & History ?

Posted by barri0s1872, Jun 23, 2018.

So it's been a while since I've been on here but I was just doing a little research into lesser known grape varietals. In the last four years or so I've been excitedly searching out American wines from other known regions to see what's been going on there and trying varietals I hadn't heard of, mostly hybrids. But this also brought me into lesser known vitis vinifera varietals and the wines being made from them in both America and France, and by extension other countries but keeping it to France for now.

Part of this research is for a creative project of sorts, so think of it as "inspirational research". I finished reading through 'A History of Wine in America', which I eventually detoured into 'Biodynamic Wine Demystified', then recently finished 'The Dirty Guide to Wine' and 'Godforsaken Grapes' and found myself researching, among other things, decrees like the one that effectively pushed Gamay into Beaujolais by the Duke of Burgundy. I haven't found much so far outside of another issued in 1731 mandating vines planted after 1702 be uprooted to be replaced by cereal grains. I figured if I found more situations like this I could use it for fodder for what I'm working on and was wondering if the Snooth community had any suggestions or could point me in the right direction. 

I'm not sure if there is a blog out there that focuses on more historical nitty-gritty details like this (maybe something like this: but that would be great to find. 


Any suggestions? 


Reply by dmcker, Jun 25, 2018.

Interesting question, Barrios. Can you be a little clearer about the direction of your research and the types of info you're looking for? Lots of stuff out there, though not all online.

Reply by barri0s1872, Jun 26, 2018.

DMCKER - thanks for responding! Yea, researching online hasn't turned up what I had hoped. It usually circles back to the same popular bits of information. So I'm not sure where to look at this point. 

I guess what I'm looking for is a bit more esoteric (?) in the end, or maybe I should be looking at larger trends rather than smaller details like a decree. Perhaps some of the problem is that many varietals were not categorized and documented early on to build this kind of information.

Basically I'm looking for information that fits a similar framework of the decree that outlawed Gamay in Burgundy and the repercussions of that act (moving Gamay south). Basically anything that notes (for whatever reason: scientific, mystical, word of mouth) why growers, or a population, would stop growing a certain set of varietals or a single varietal. 

So maybe a good example is, why did Champagne settle on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as their base grapes when they had other varietals to work with like Pinot Muenier or Petite Arbanne, etc.? I found an interesting article pointing me in the right direction and was hoping to find similar bits of information - 

I was hoping to use this information as examples to cite to build backstory for a story. 

Does that make sense? 

Reply by cablecars, Jun 26, 2018.

Have you looked at this book


It is a guide for reference but still could be good for what you want to do.

Reply by barri0s1872, Jun 27, 2018.

Cable, thanks! Yes I've heard of it, the cost has kept me away mostly.  One day I'll get this book too. I wonder how in depth it is? 

Reply by rckr1951, Jun 27, 2018.

Me too.  It would be an interesting read I' sure.

Reply by GregT, Jun 30, 2018.

Barrios - don't look in wine literature for starters. You'll just find the same recycled stories and they won't necessarily be accurate, just repeated. The idea of Gamay is a perfect case - the Duke didn't ban it because he was a wine lover and had better grapes, but that's the story people recycle. Gamay had been around since the third century, maybe earlier. And the monks didn't sit there planting various grapes trying to figure out which would be best. They chose from a very small selection.

And many of the edicts had nothing to do with wine per se. For example, the emperor Probus, who came from farmers, probably vine growers, from Dalmatia set his legions to planting grapes all over what was then Pannonia but is today parts of Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, Croatia and Serbia. He knew that idle soldiers were a danger and had them planting vines and draining swamps when not engaged in battling off the Germans and others. He was one of the last great emperors and one day a few soldiers killed him. The rest of the soldiers regretted his loss because he was a soldier they could respect, but his edict resulted in lots of vineyards in central Europe.

He also repealed what was one of the first recorded edicts regarding wine, from the Emperor Domitian, who banned grapes from much of Asia Minor and Gaul, partly to protect Italian wine producers, and partly because he wanted to grow other crops, and partly because like most of these edicts, it would benefit him personally. And oh yeah, partly because Mount Vesuvius erupted and had damaged a lot of vineyards and Domitian had earlier required planting vines in places where cereal was growing. That resulted in famine, his edict established the standard for all to follow - the stupider, the better.

But the Hebrews had even earlier laws, or so it seems. Of course, these were from God or from prophets who had a direct line to him, so who would argue with them. According to those laws, you can’t use the fruit for three years; you can't make wine for worshipping idols, and you're supposed to boil it. That's a mevushal rule and if you do that, gentiles can handle it, or so I was told, I really have no clue. And there's another rule about not picking the grapes every seventh year. But apparently I un-koshered some wine by helping someone put it through some swinging doors. He had an entire pallet on a forklift and I touched it and helped him get it through and instead of being happy, he was horrified. I meant no harm but I'm certain God was disgusted with him and everyone who will drink that wine in years to come.

Currently the EU is paying growers to grub up Carignan, which is used to produce a lot of bulk wine. But does that help anyone? Not really. The problem with the growers is that they have made swill for a long time but the working class that used to drink it now has many more options - soft drinks, imported and local beers, etc. So the French are drinking less wine, but that's because the people who used to drink the swill are no longer doing so. Of course, if the current laws allowed more flexibility, we would be having a different conversation, but clearly, the standard set by Domitian is durable.

Reply by cablecars, Jun 30, 2018.

The book has alot of info but I think it could be helpful to interview the above poster. He has more info than what the book!

GREGT have you thought to write a book? Where did you study wine?

Reply by outthere, Jun 30, 2018.

Show off! 😛

Reply by barri0s1872, Jul 4, 2018.

GREGT, that's great, thanks! I'll have to go back to my other books and begin peeling through them more carefully for what I need. I'll have to go back to Vinum: The Story of Wine and another book by Thomas Pellechia for Roman stories and allusions. It would be great to have these stories or even the fables that developed from other regions like Spain, Southern France, Eastern Europe, etc. 

Any other books I should look into? 


Also do you have any source material for Gamay that would fill in the real reasons why it was banned from Burgundy? 

Reply by EMark, Jul 4, 2018.

So, who spotted GregT's mistake?

No he did not refer to a grape varietal.

Reply by cablecars, Jul 5, 2018.

Reply by cablecars, Jul 5, 2018.

I hope its something you can read. For info only purposes.

Reply by barri0s1872, Jul 6, 2018.

Cable - very cool, I'm guessing that's the giant Grapes book ? Thanks! 

Reply by GregT, Jul 7, 2018.

OK Emark, I don a humble hood and hang my head in shame!

But what is the mistake? Meshuval? I don't know anything about that - I was just told that's why the guy was unhappy with me.

As far as the duke goes, he wanted to protect his own interests. In later years, Lyon became a silk center and a lot of Beaujolais went to Lyon as bistro wine. But some producers did not do the light, fruity stuff and their wines were always known for being serious wines.

Barrios - Edward Gibbons "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" is a start. It's where I first learned about Probus and Marcus Aurelius, etc. It's not about vineyards, but those things get thrown in and it's so worth reading anyway! The thing is, you can't read much about European history without getting some info about wine in the mix - it's been so important for so long that it's hard to escape its influence on so many things!

Reply by EMark, Jul 8, 2018.
Definition of pallet
1 : a straw-filled tick or mattress as in monks retiring to their pallets
2 : a small, hard, or temporary bed as in The computers are packed in boxes and then stacked on pallets for shipping.
Definition of palate
1 : the roof of the mouth separating the mouth from the nasal cavity — see hard palate, soft palate
2 a : a usually intellectual taste or liking, as in  too ornate for my palate
or … I heard a little too much preaching … and lost my palate for it. —George Eliot
b : the sense of taste as in serves Korean food adapted for the American palate

Greg, I hope you understand how much I enjoy your expositions.  Believe me, you have turned me into a real snob regarding the usage of the word "varietal."

Forgive me for priggishly criticizing your latest truly excellent essay.

Reply by GregT, Jul 8, 2018.

Holy crap Emark!!!!! That's some seriously embarrassing s**t!  Can't believe I did that. I guess I'm so used to typing that word it was an auto-reflex. 

Good catch though!

(It should be "cultivar", i.e. a cultivated variety. But good luck getting non-horticultural people to go along with that.)

Anyhow, Barrios - another book you might want to look at is by Tyler Coleman - Wine Politics

and his blog is here:

He's a pretty good friend and he's done loads of research.

Another place you may want to look is at the writings of Pietro de Crescenzi. He wrote about agricultural practices in the 1500s and devoted a lot of space to wine.

There were edicts issued against vines when there was some concern that cereal crops would be insufficient, or when some other issue took precedence. In the 1600s for example, the minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert decided that France needed to get into the textile business in a big way, so he issued edicts favoring sheep herding. He also wanted to build roads, so he essentially conscripted peasants to build them - it was kind of like the US interstate system but in France and in the 1600s. A lot of them lost their crops because he didn't really care what time of year it was when they were forced to work - they were just peasants after all. In the long run it helped some of them - it allowed Burgundy to be sold outside of the country whereas prior to that, it was hard to get the wine to foreign markets, unlike the wines of the Rhone and Bordeaux.

And speaking of Bordeaux, look at the rules when both the Romans and the English ruled the area - usually they allowed unimpeded passage of wine in a kind of free-trade zone. Again, wine wasn't necessarily singled out, but there were trade and tax edicts that affected it directly.

Charlemagne had some edicts regarding wine - you might want to look at some of them.

There were some from Germany in the 1400s regarding the use of sulfur to clean barrels - I don't remember the details but I think those must have been the earliest regarding barrel storage.

In the 1300s the Hundred Years war made England look to the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal and there are some interesting regulations coming out of that era. The islamic occupation of parts of Europe resulted in regulation of alcohol and wine and once the moslems departed, there were additional laws enacted. Much later, in the late 1500s, the Spanish rulers banned further planting of vineyards in the New World because so much wine was coming back from Peru it threatened the domestic industry. Kind of like Domitian again.

You might also want to look at laws related to alcoholism and public drinking and drunkenness. 

Reply by dmcker, Jul 9, 2018.

Then there's also the frequently-also-mistakenly-used 'palette'...  Will nominate what should be 'palate' as the most commonly mistaken word in the wine world.

'Varietal' is just a new word or word usage. Words change and new forms evolve in every context, whether IT or historical analysis or sociology or social media or, yes, wine.

Reply by EMark, Jul 9, 2018.

'Varietal' is just a new word or word usage. Words change and new forms evolve in every context, whether IT or historical analysis or sociology or social media or, yes, wine.

I know that I'm tilting at windmills, DM, but it just gives me such a feeling of superiority.  ;-)

Reply by GregT, Jul 10, 2018.

It's using an adjective as a noun. I guess that's how language goes though - I have a gold and my wife has a red!

Reply by zufrieden, Oct 31, 2018.

And don't get us started about "disconnect" or the common misuse of adjectives for adverbs, or as I sometimes propose calling them: adjeverbs.  But that's OK, I'm not angry anymore... really.  

Except for the expression "Absolutely!".  Use of this more than once a year should result in the death penalty.  Oh, I guess I'm still angry...





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