Sunday, August 10, 2008

Life in the Provinces

August is supposed to be a quiet month, as everyone in France is off on holiday, but I still managed to visit a dozen champagne producers over the past week, which makes me feel happily productive even in the midst of summer. I’m looking forward to a brief respite from the Champagne region myself pretty soon, though, and a welcome return to more urban locales. The rustic charm of life in the countryside is definitely overrated.

My friend Ewald Moseler, who is a wine importer in Portland, Oregon, grew up in the tiny village of Rachtig, just next to Zeltingen in Germany’s Mosel Valley, which is even more out in the sticks than Champagne is. He’s often described to me how provincial the mentalities of people could be back in his hometown, particularly among the village’s fiercely proud winegrowers. “These small winemakers in Rachtig really believed that their wine was just as good as anybody else’s in the Mosel,” says Ewald. “They’d say, ‘Oh, J.J. Prüm, they just have good PR. They spend a lot of money on marketing, and that’s why they’re so famous.’”

I thought of this the other day when I met the nephew of a highly-regarded grower here in Champagne. This nephew also bottles wine under his own label, and simply could not stand to talk about his more famous uncle. Even the mere mention of his uncle’s name threatened to send him into an apoplectic frenzy. Clearly he believed that his wine was every bit as great as his uncle’s wine, and he went out of his way to remind me several times that his father had been part of the family’s estate too. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve never tasted this guy’s wines, and I’ll reserve final judgment until I do. For all I know, they could be brilliant. But call me cynical: I’m pretty sure that there’s a reason why his uncle’s name is a household one and his isn’t.


IanB said...

The reason communities become inward-looking is because they have minimum interaction with those elsewhere, I suspect. Or if they do, the interaction is too painful, though not as painful as when reality finally intrudes, which it eventually must do.

That's obviously true for those of us who live in remote communities, but it can be seen just as readily in others who are inward-looking for many other reasons. Workplaces can be rife with it.

It would also be a mistake to think that all city-dwellers are free of it - indeed, metropolitan types often have a bad dose of it in rather insidious form!

Just wanted to say hi, and add that I've had quite a bit of fun reading through your back-notes - especially the champagnes. So don't give up entirely, please! I'll look forward to checking your notes regularly from now on.

Best regards, Ian

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