Don Rumsfeld has left us with the momentarily illuminating but ultimately distracting vision of Old Europe and New Europe, a distinction that divides geographically along the aftershadow of the Iron Curtain, with snooty/fuddy Western Europe versus freedom-appreciating/US-embracing Eastern Europe. On a longer historical timeline — or in a deeper cultural frame, if you won’t tempt historicism — the truer divide, as Nietzsche returned to over and again, is the one that marks Northern Europe off from Southern. In Nietzsche’s colorful stereotype, Northern Europe was cold, bracing, analytical, restless, intellectual, scientific, monomaniacal, ‘spirit’-ual, irreligious, puritan, austere, minimalist, comprehensive, disciplined, medieval, and modern. Southern Europe was warm, balmy, passionate, luxuriant,  emotional, artistic, polyglot, carnal, credulous, catholic, voluptuous, ornate, cumulative, excellent, ancient, and eternal.

Much fun — academically speaking — could be had parsing this distinction and all its complications, but in its broad outlines it’s believable enough, I think, to use as a preface to this news , courtesy of WaPo:

To the buttoned-down European Union bureaucrats in Brussels, the idea was simple: squeeze costs, conquer new markets, maximize profits. But to the vintners of Taradeau, a sun-splashed Provencal village 800 miles to the south — and a world away, mentally — it was an attack on their Mediterranean heritage, a crack in French civilization, a fraud against wine lovers everywhere. Never, they cried, can you mix a bucket of red wine into a barrel of white and call it rosé.

[ . . . ] Johan Reyniers, a spokesman for the commission in Brussels, said E.U. officials meant well and had their reasons: They were seeking to arm European vintners for competition in emerging markets such as China , where producers from Australia and South Africa , for example, do not hesitate to mix red wine with white and undersell European rosé by several dollars a bottle. Anyway, he added, relaxing Europe’s rosé rules was only “one little thing” in a vast program to unshackle the wine industry from outdated regulations.

The clashing perspectives — this “one little thing” is a way of life in the hills of Provence — have once again pitted France’s tradition of good living and great gastronomy against the seemingly unstoppable march of economic imperatives. Across the country, from wine cellars to cheese vats, from sausagemakers to bakers, artisans are confronted by 21st-century demands for efficiency, cost-cutting and homogenization.

Consumers’ shopping carts may be fuller and supermarket chains’ profit ledgers may be blacker as a result, but something is being lost in the process, traditional producers say.

Looking across the sloping hillsides lined with grapevines that surround Chateau de Saint Martin here, it is easy to understand their point. Ever since the Count of Rohan Chabot bought the beautiful vineyards from a group of monks in the 17th century as a dowry for his daughter, the same family has been producing a sunny line of red, white and rosé wines with a proud heritage.


Aside from the obvious entertainment value of this situation, and the easy EU-mocking it affords, I think I see in here an interesting wrinkle in the typical association of tradition-bound craftsmanship with the sort of austere, even uptight medievalism that critics of communitarianism often (if not unfairly) mock and deride.Yes, winemaking is a very special sort of craft, nothing like, say, church-organ-making. But if Nietzsche’s portrait of ‘the south’ has any heft to it, it throws into focus for us something of the way in which we err by too readily linking a way of life oriented around craft traditionalismto a narrow, anti-fun worldview of confined horizons and suppressed human capabilities.

Articles by James Poulos

Loading...

Show 0 comments