Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade

By Tim Unwin | Go to book overview

1

THEMES IN THE HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF VITICULTURE

Les thèmes de la vigne et du vin, quand j'y arrival, me frappèrent par la beauté de l'illustration qu'ils trouvaient en France et par l'ampleur de leur résonance historique. [The themes of the vine and wine, when I came to them, struck me by their beauty of illustration in France, and by the depth of their historic resonance.]

(Dion, 1959:vii)

There are few agricultural crops whose products are as subtly diverse as those of the grape vine, Vitis vinifera. Moreover, this diversity is reflected at a range of scales, from the global variations between wines in different continents, to the local differences between adjacent vineyards which can entitle the wine from one one to be called a Grand Cru while that of its neighbour remains a simple Appellation Communale. This diversity is not only the outcome of differences in geology and climate, but it is also the result of the labour of countless generations of vine growers and wine makers, each set in their own distinctive human context. It is this historical interaction between people and the environment, creating a specific cultural identity, that lies at the heart of any understanding of the emergence and spread of viticulture and wine production. The essence of this distinctive interaction has been well captured in Figure 1 by the French cartoonist Blachon (Humoristes Associés, 1980), who depicts the roots of a wine bottle spreading out into the soil beneath a grass covered field. In the background, set among rolling hills and under a cloudless sky, lies a small village, the home of the vignerons, and also the repository of the cultural heritage that gives the wine its own special identity. Dominating the skyline is the spire of the church, emphasising the important role played by religion, not only in the daily lives of the inhabitants of the village, but also in the development and maintenance of a viticultural tradition.

However, there is much more to an understanding of the emergence and spread of viticulture than merely its expression as a product of the interaction of people in a particular environment. Viticulture and wine

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