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07.23.2007

Stabbing Cornas In the Chest

For the last week there has been quite a conversation brewing as the result of my commentary on a magazine article discussing EU wine reforms, which include ripping out quite a lot of underperforming vineyards around Europe (mainly in France). Now I don't know enough to be able to say definitively whether ripping out (or "grubbing up" as the Europeans like to call it) can actually help the European wine industry, but I understand the logic being used.

There is another, smaller, less visible set of plans on the table to rip out some vines, for which I can find absolutely no logical reason, and which, when it comes right down to it, really pisses me off.

I've long been a fan of the Cornas appellation in the Northern Rhone, ever since I had a bottle of Syrah from August Clape, who remains one of my favorite producers in Cornas, an area which is essentially a granitic outcropping studded with gnarly, ancient Syrah vines that several farming families have been working for more than a century.

And now, despite opposition from pretty much everyone except the real estate developer who's got plans to develop the land, the mayor of Cornas, Monsieur Gilbert Garnier, and his local planning council, have said they plan to allow development of large commercial building in an area which includes some of August Clape's 100+ year-old vines.

This is shocking and idiotic.

I am unfamiliar with the legal lay of the land, so to speak, but I guess somehow the government has some rights to make decisions on land use in certain areas that have historically been family farms, and Monsieur Garnier has decided to let a developer put up a building on what is now the Les Mazards vineyard. Perhaps this is the French equivalent of what happens in the US when the government decides that there needs to be a freeway right where your house is. The only difference is that in this case it's a private development, not some public works project that will "benefit" everyone.

The development of this four to five story building will require a road that will likely cut through Clape's Pied de la Vigne site, where some of his oldest vines currently live.

If this were the United States, we could all just fire off blistering e-mails to the bureaucrat in charge, but as we're talking about a small provincial village, the only way to get your voice heard is to send a physical letter, which I encourage you to do, if you have the time and the energy.

The address, for those of you good with a quill:

Monsieur Gilbert Garnier
Le Maire de Cornas
Mairie de Cornas
07130 Cornas
France

Or, if you don't have the time and energy, just leave a comment here on this blog, and I will print it out and mail it to Monsieur Garnier with my own letter in a few days. There is also a petition to sign which you can download here ( 10k PDF), and return electronically (scanned) to me or to Vincent Paris ([email protected]), Co-President of the Cornas Winegrowers Association.

If you are a blogger, and you've every enjoyed wines from the Northern Rhone it would be great if you can help spread the word about this pending disaster.

For more information, you can check out the press release issued by the Cornas Winegrowers Association (30k PDF) which was graciously translated for me by Amy Lillard of La Gramiere, or check out John Livingston-Learmouth's site for his take on the problem.

Thank you in advance for whatever effort you can lend to this cause:


Photo credit: The Gang of Pour, who I hope won't mind me using this lovely image for such a purpose.

Comments (10)

07.24.07 at 8:42 AM

Thanks, Alder, for running this. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and it won't wait very long, I fear. Cornas is sacred ground to me, and I'll be sending along my two cents worth.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
07.24.07 at 2:00 PM

Monsieur Gilbert Garnier,

It is with great sadness that I learn that you are considering allowing commerical development of the Les Mazards vineyard.
I certainly respect your right to to conduct bussiness in a manner that benefits your community and its citizens. However, I believe what is contained in the Les Mazards Vineyard specifically, and in Cornas in general is a cultural gift to the world. We in America look to the French people for examples of a culture interested in protecting its own history and identity. With Frances vast array of agricultural products that have come to define your nations place in the world, the sacrafice of a great vineyard for commercial development seems to indicate that Cornas no longer wants to be known as a producer of great wine. I am saddened not only because of the loss of great vineyard land but by the loss of an example of a nation that considers it agricultural products as part of its cultural identity and the resulting loss of such identity. If Cornas is not worth saving, what sacred ground is? Please reconsider. Your actions will not only effect Cornas but perhaps the entire world; we will lose your lovely wines and we may lose more... an example of a people who love thier land and it histroy.

Sincerly,

Jerry D. Murray
Winemaker
Patton Valley Vineyard
Gaston, OR USA

bob pope wrote:
07.24.07 at 10:41 PM

I'm sorry for the actions in a fine town in France but, Where is the uproar over the devastation in our own backyard? The ancient vineyards of Oakley (CA) have been under assault by the lack of foresight by City Management, Expansionism, Greed, etc.
We'll soon see the results at Cline, Bonny Doon, Rosenblum, and many other highly regarded wineries when we don't have Carla's Vineyard, Planchon Vineyard, Duarte Vineyard, ...
SOME of us would rather have the above vineyards rather than another WalMart; how 'bout you?

John DeFiore wrote:
07.25.07 at 9:03 AM

Losing even a few vines in Cornas would be a tragedy. It's not a big appellation in the first place. I would have hoped that we could count on the French to see the value in preserving a resource like that over commercial development. What's next, a Costco in the middle of the Cote de Nuits vines? When do the mall stores move in? Do you want fries with that DRC?

Kim Adams wrote:
07.25.07 at 1:33 PM

Alder, on behalf of our Cornas coverage colleagues, Greg Ellis and Dave Dyroff, 'tis our pleasure to be able to provide the photo for your use. Thank you for the Cornas issue coverage. This IS important.

Alder wrote:
07.25.07 at 2:14 PM

Bob,

Thanks for the comments. Clearly the French have done a better job letting wine lovers know about this problem in Cornas than folks in Oakley. And then there's the fact that Cornas is a little bit more well known than Oakley (no statement being made here about the relative value of either set of vineyards).

boyd wrote:
07.26.07 at 12:52 PM

Alder,
You seem to contradict yourself with this blog posting when referencing your posting on the 18th of July.

In your earlier posting you talk of being supportive of market forces in the wine industry yet in this instance these vineyards must be protected.

If the vineyard's wines were selling well and are profitable it would not make sense to replace them with the proposed development.

And if you really want to save the vineyard then use those market forces to gather investors and purchase the vineyard, make the wine and preserve the history.

Alder wrote:
07.26.07 at 3:57 PM

Boyd,

A government politician seizing a farmers land against his or her will (and the will of the community) for real estate development is decidedly NOT market forces at work.

August Clape and Alain Voge are two of the most popular winemakers in the Northern Rhone and these vineyards produce some of their highest price wines (which regularly sell for more than $80 per bottle). These wines sell out EVERY year, and have for decades. They are some of the world's best wines (in pretty much every major critic's opinion) and are very hard to come by.

This is not some run of the mill parcel of grapes that some winegrower has decided to sell to someone who offered them a price more valuable than the wine they could make using that acreage. These vineyards were not for sale.

This is priceless, historical world class vineyard acreage that is being forcibly converted to government property against nearly everyone's wishes.

thesheriff wrote:
07.26.07 at 5:01 PM

What would Charlemagne say?

boyd wrote:
07.26.07 at 5:05 PM

Alder,
I misunderstood the situation and thought it was the owner of the land wishing to develop it. I apologize.

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