Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Peasants' Revolt: Roger Scruton on the Admirable Fortitude of the Wine-Growers of Southern France

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Peasants' Revolt: Roger Scruton on the Admirable Fortitude of the Wine-Growers of Southern France

Article excerpt

In 1907, the wine-based economy of southern France was wrecked by phylloxera. Only growers in the renowned exporting vineyards could afford the costly business of grafting on to stocks imported from America, and whole areas of the Languedoc found themselves grapeless and--worse--wineless.

Not surprisingly, the first effect of this was to produce a grim and unforgiving peasantry, intent on punishing the officials of the Third Republic and, if possible, gaining access to their cellars. The people of Beziers, Perpignan, Carcassonne and Nimes rallied behind one Marcellin Albert and induced mayors across the Languedoc to send back their mayoral sashes and close the town halls. The obvious remedy was to release enough wine from the cellars of the Assemblee Nationale to quench the protesters' thirst. Instead Georges Clemenceau sent in the troops. Five people were killed and more than a hundred wounded, and Albert was imprisoned in Montpellier. The peasants got the message and the vineyards of the Languedoc remained unplanted for half a century.

In the steady revival of the region since the Second World War, one tiny enclave has led the way, earning its own appellation for red and rose in 1982, and for white last year. This is the area centred on Faugeres, north of Beziers, and incorporating neighbouring communes with such wonderful names as Caussiniojouls and Cabrerolles. The population of the Faugeres appellation is roughly 3,000, down from 4,750 a century ago, and the wine production is still under 100,000 litres. …

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