Archive for July, 2016

Buvez Francais

July 29th, 2016

cav crav wine terrorism

By Joseph Temple

Last week in the commune of Narbonne, a tasting cellar was burnt to the ground in a deliberate act of arson. “It was very violent,” recalled one horrified employee being interviewed by The Telegraph. The target—Domain Jean Glazes—had recently been accused of purchasing 3.5 million bottles of cheap Spanish wine and repackaging it with phony French labels. And written on the walls engulfed in flames were the letters “CAV”. For those living in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, it is clearly the work of the Comité d’Action Viticole, an underground criminal network that has instilled fear across southern France for more than forty years.

Consisting of approximately 1000 tight-lipped members, the group also struck earlier this year when it hijacked five tankers near the border between Spain and France. Pouring 90,000 bottles of Spanish wine out onto the roads, the group said it was a calculated response to what they perceive are unfair trade advantages. Those vehicles that were allowed to pass had the words “vin non conforme” (non-compliant wine) marked on the side of their trucks.

For most Americans who adhere to a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to private property damage, the idea that local authorities considered this incident to be a mere “social action” is unsettling. But in France, where violent labor unrest is almost a national pastime, you need to understand the troubled past surrounding one of the country’s largest wine-growing regions.

While the names Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne are famous across the world, Languedoc-Roussillon, which sprawls along the Mediterranean coast has been described by author Michael Steinberger as “a viticultural backwater, producing cheap wines for the French working classes.” Known for its low-grade vin de pays and vin de table wines, the vignerons of this region have been feeling the squeeze for many years. For starters, the economic subsidies that France used to give to these farmers have disappeared as the country entered a new era of free trade becoming a part of the European Union. Additionally, French consumers—the key market for the Languedoc—are drinking less wine, down 50 percent since 1960 as new cultural norms have taken over society. However, this biggest blow came from countries like Chile, Argentina, and Spain whose less expensive wines have been able to undercut the French. In fact, France became the biggest buyer of Spanish wines in 2014, purchasing 580 million liters, a 40 percent rise from the previous year.

Add all these factors together and you have an extremely volatile situation that has been bubbling for decades. When the CAV was formed in 1970 (also known as the Comité Régional D’action Viticole or CRAV), their message was one that resonated with many frustrated winemakers. As Steinberger explains: “By portraying its battle as one not just about vintners but also about vineyards, CRAV tapped a deep vein of French nostalgia. Agriculture held a sacred place in French life; the French considered themselves to be a nation of small farmers, and their reverence for the land and those who worked it seemed to grow stronger as more and more people abandoned the country for the city.”

Beginning in the 1970s, CAV became infamous for blocking roads and emptying tankers of imported wines while simultaneously damaging the cellars of merchants suspected of importing these wines. “Each bottle of American and Australian wine that lands in Europe is a bomb targeted at the heart of our rich European culture,” said one sympathizer. Not surprisingly, this type of incendiary rhetoric would go onto fuel a shootout in 1976 between CAV supporters and police after the former blocked the railway line at the Montredon Bridge in Narbonne, which resulted in two deaths. Due to the group’s increasing militancy and the worldwide publicity that followed, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi reportedly offered CAV $50 million dollars and military training to overthrow the French government, an offer that was declined by co-founder Jean Vialade.

Fast-forward to the past fifteen years and the violence has showed no signs of slowing down. In March of 2005, CAV claimed responsibility for a bomb that exploded at La Braume winery, damaging the barrel cellar and roof. That same month its members hijacked a truck, shooting at its fuel tank and emptying 25,000 liters of Spanish red wine into the streets. And this is only the tip of the iceberg; incidents have ranged from setting freight cars on fire to blowing up a tax collector’s office. In a taped message to Nicolas Sarkozy back in 2007, several men wearing balaclavas warned the French president that “blood would flow” if wine prices were not raised.

As trade barriers come down, increased (and in many cases, unfair) competition is driving anger and resentment to record highs, especially in rural areas. “If a French wine maker produced wine with Spanish rules, he simply wouldn’t be able to sell it … Europe’s all very well, but with the same rules for all,” said the president of a winemakers’ union. Of course, on the opposite side of the spectrum, many view this type of mindset as simply out of touch with a more global 21st century. “Many people in that part of France understand the world is changing and people are no longer content to drink cheap vin de pays,” said one winery owner. “But there are others who have not moved with the times.”

Unfortunately, unless something is done to diversify the region, more attacks by CAV and it supporters are inevitable. “These people—if they don’t have viticulture, they would have nothing,” said one economic expert. “Without wine, it would be a desert.”


Charters, Stephen. Wine and Society: The Social and Cultural Context of a Drink. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, 2006.
Colman, Tyler. Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Hovington, Steve. The Grape Escape. Leicester: Troubador Publishing Ltd., 2011.
Steinberger, Michael. Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the Decline of France. New York: Doubleday, 2010.
Torrès, Olivier. The Wine Wars: The Mondavi Affair, Globalization and ‘Terroir.’ New York: Palmgrave MacMillan, 2006.

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Ask Sid: Factors Influencing Terroir

July 27th, 2016
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climate soil terroir

Question: Liked your blog this week Sid pointing out how the growing interest in terroir is stimulating more vineyard mapping. You noted 3 important factors “of soil types, of exposures, and of altitudes” and I wondered which one of those you consider to be the most important.

Answer: Thanks for your kind words. The distinct terroir of any vineyard is difficult to define because it is an amalgam of many complex contributing elements. The 3 you point out are all important but I vote for soil first among those. Look at the influence of Kimmeridgean soil in Chablis for Chardonnay, sandy soil in Barolo Cannubi for Nebbiolo, deep clay in Pomerol for Merlot, gravel in Pauillac for Cabernet Sauvignon, granite in Beaujolais for Gamay, slate in the Mosel for Riesling among so many others. I believe climate or really microclimate is probably the most important factor of all. Climate influences the grape in so many ways including sun, temperature highs, lows and ranges, wind, rain, hail, frost, hours of daylight etc. Everyone is now watching carefully how our changing world climate is affecting the established terroir of all vineyards.

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Growing Importance of Vineyard Mapping – Chianti Classico

July 25th, 2016

wine maps

Wine maps have been popular for quite a while now. I still remember how excited I was when the first edition of Hugh Johnson’s The World Atlas of Wine was released in 1971 containing detailed maps of the wine regions and how to locate them. In fact it was that book together with A Wine Tour of France by Frederic S Wildman, Jr. that provided the background for my earliest trips in the seventies around France. Later in 1987 Hugh Johnson with Hubrecht Duijker published The Wine Atlas of France and Traveller’s Guide to the Vineyards and in 1989/1990 Hachette/Pascal Ribereau-Gayon with a foreword by Robert M. Parker produced The Wines and Vineyards of France all with updates containing even more detail on the vineyards in France. Of course The World Atlas of Wine has gone through many updates with the valuable input of Jancis Robinson from 2001 for the 5th edition that was 30 years after the first one. Subsequently the dynamic duo have released the 6th in 2007 and the current 7th in 2013 – “completely revised & updated”.

Wine lovers now have an increasing real desire to check out “terroir”. Accordingly there is valuable material out there both on line and in hard copy to help you determine the specific place that gives that unique character to the resulting wine produced from that site. This is a growing trend everywhere around the world. Interactive Vineyard Maps at are excellent for Barolo and Barbaresco mapping and now also their latest Napa Valley series starting with the vineyards of Oakville and Pritchard Hill. Renowned wine cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti is on their wine team. Also check out Regional Wine Maps around the world at

Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti wine proprietor of her family owned quality Tuscan winery Badia a Coltibuono dating back to 1846 was in Vancouver this month. Answering a question I asked her about the new Chianti Classico Gran Selezione classification she stated they are not participating in it currently but putting all their emphasis on producing pure Sangiovese from distinct specific vineyards instead. Their vineyards are located in the Monti in the southern section of Gaiole in Chianti. She pointed this out as she produced the amazing second edition (2016) detailed large map I Cru Di Enogea showing Vineyards and Production Zones for Chianti Classico DOCG edited by the same Alessandro Masnaghetti. It does an excellent job of helping your understanding of these regions starting clockwise at 12 o’clock heading southeast of Firenze with Greve, Radda, Gaiole, Castelnuovo Berardenga (most southerly at 6 on the clock just north of Siena), continuing northerly on the west side through Castellina, then Barberino, Tavarnelle and San Casciano all three Val di Pesa which includes the tiny Poggibonsi.

The extensive narrative on the back of the map is outstanding in explaining that “more than 18,000 acres (7300 hectares) of vineyards currently in production, extending over an overall surface area ten times as large: these figures give only the vaguest of ideas of the complexity of an appellation like Chianti Classico”. I like the modest guide note of “If it is true that the production of wine in Chianti Classico tied to specific places and areas is an historically documented fact, it is equally true that a traditions of vineyards considered to be crus is not as firmly rooted as in other wine producing zones. If we add to this fact the very important variability of soil types, of exposures, and of altitudes, it is easy to understand that the idea of tracing boundary lines quickly demonstrated itself to be a complicated task, and one by no means without pitfalls.”

Your scribe was so fascinated by this new revised mapping and explanation of Chianti Classico that Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti kindly gave to me her personal Map. Lucky me. For the rest of you interested in more detail of what makes this region so unique and special you will have to obtain your own copy. Recommend you look for more vineyard maps to study from the key wine regions around the world that interest you. Always an outstanding learning tool about wine!

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Can you believe it? The rise of canned wine

July 22nd, 2016

wine in a can

By Joseph Temple

For traditionalists, the idea of drinking wine from cans has always been seen as an anathema. While sales of beer, soda, and energy drinks have flourished from their association with aluminum, many oenophiles feel the metallic tastes that may result from this type of container are completely unsuited for the complexities of wine. Furthermore, the cherished ritual of uncorking that special bottle in front of friends and family doesn’t have quite the same impact when you replace it with a ring pull. And for decades, this mindset has dominated the marketplace as canned wine has represented less than 0.1 % of overall wine consumption in America. But this may be changing as Nielsen reports that sales of canned wine have increased by over 125% in the past year.

This surge in sales has been largely the result of millennials—a demographic group that represents approximately ninety million Americans that is growing at a rate of 10,000 people turning 21 every single day. Consuming nearly 160 million cases last year (roughly 42% of all wine sold in the United States), their impact has caused enormous ripples throughout industry. Not adhering to the rules and standards set by previous generations, their influence can be seen with such unorthodox products as blue wine, the abundance of flashy and colorful labels at the wine store, and the resurgence of rosé. So when Whole Foods predicted that canned wine would be one of the hottest trends of 2016, they clearly had their finger on the pulse of this transformative group.

Looking at the advantages of canned wine, convenience and portability tops the list, especially for those planning on going out this summer. Whether it’s picnics or days at the beach, drinking straight from the can is certainly more hassle free than having to haul a bottle, corkscrew, and several wine glasses around. According to one Harris poll, 73% of respondents said that having packaging that is easy to carry around is extremely important. And under the hot and humid sun, a cold refreshing beverage is always preferable. Having said that, it’s no surprise that sparkling wines, usually served chilled, have been the most popular choice, representing 90% of all canned wine purchases in 2012. However, this is changing rapidly as canned table wine sales have increased tenfold in just one year, doubling that of sparkling wines.

Unlike “Kan-O-Wine” and “Swiss Mist” of the 1950s and 1960s, this new era of canned wines have been able to connect with these younger consumers. Through hip and eye-catching graphics and a distribution model that makes them available at both local wine stores and trendy grocery stores, wineries selling their product in a can have begun convincing millennials that wine doesn’t have to be seen as old fashioned. According to the Business Insider, “With the rise of millennial wine drinkers comes a growing demand for wines that are more innovative and less expensive. Wine apps, wine slushies, wine ice cream — millennials are craving wine, and they want it presented in a different manner than prior generations.”

Can you believe it?

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Ask Sid: Mouton Rothschild’s Château Armailhac

July 20th, 2016
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Château d'Armailhac
By Tomas er (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: I am confused about the many names of the 1855 Classification Fifth Growth Pauillac Estate called Château Armailhac part of the Mouton Rothschild wine stable. Would you please clarify it for me?

Answer: Good reason to be confused because of the history of the name. In 1933 Baron Philippe owner of Château Mouton Rothschild bought 99 acres of the nearby Château Mouton d’Armailhacq from the proprietor Comte de Ferrand. In 1956 to help differentiate it from the brandy named Armagnac and to fully connect it more closely to the family it was renamed Château Mouton Baron Philippe. Other important dates include in 1970 Baron Philippe buying another 5th growth Pauillac estate Château Clerc Milon and in 1973 Château Mouton Rothschild being elevated from a second cru in the 1855 classification to a premier cru. In 1976 his wife Baroness Philippe de Rothschild died and in homage to her work the name of Château Mouton Baron Philippe was changed to Château Mouton Baronne Philippe. Then in 1989 it was changed once again to the current name of Château d’Armailhac similar to that original name.

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