The Poodle and the Wine

Frenchpood I read recently that the most popular dog breed in France is the Poodle. Here in the U.S. it is the Labrador Retriever. This difference alone isn't quite enough to force Americans to be suspicious of the French. But it makes you think.

We (wine lovers) should also be forced to think about the French today, on the day of their national celebration of their Republic: Bastille Day. There's no denying that the American wine industry in its modern form originally took its ques from the French. They were, and still are in large part, the model.

The American idea of appellations, for example, is based on similar European and French models, with the primary difference being that we don't have much in the way of legally enforced rules concerning what can be grown where, how much can be grown, etc. And this won't ever happen here, in my view. It's simply TOO French an idea, like Poodles and snotty bankers.

But again, I think it's fair to note that the reverence that the French have for plots of dirt and their seeming magical ability to produce something unique and, due to that uniqueness, of value is an idea that again was adopted by American vineyardists and winemakers, and, slowly, by average American wine drinkers.

What's truly interesting, besides the Poodle thing, is how the world has shrunk; how the French now must contend with American innovation, instead of the delivery of ideas trading in only one direction.
Where Americans used to posses an "idea deficit" where winemaking is concerned, now it seems there is a move toward equilibrium in this intellectual and commercial marketplace. Take the use of placing varietals on a label or the move toward direct shipment of wine. American both, but ideas now being taken up by the French in some measure.

I spent the summer of 1989, the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, in France. I spent that July 14th in Paris. From the way the French celebrated that occasion you'd never guess that they were even then considered by many (non French) folks to be moving toward the verge of irrelevancy on the world stage. But those cynical folks were wrong.

I have proof the French and their ideas, traditions and actions are not irrelevant.

It was on this day in 1989 that I learned from the French how one frolics on a busy street, drunk, wielding a heavy bottle of champagne without committing the very un-French act of clobbering any of the other frolicking, drunk, Champagne-wielding folks in the street. I always assumed this lesson would pay dividends one day and I still believe it will.

So, despite the attempted ban on Internet Marketing of wine, the radical wine terrorists that maraud through the southern reaches of Gaul, the sometimes dismissive attitude the French have toward American wines, and all those Poodles, there is still very good reason to raise a glass to the French on  this high secular holy day of French identity.

7 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - July 15, 2009

    I have a standard poodle, the big one, not those little yapping dogs, but as an Italian-American, I’m quite unFrench.
    One thing I need to take issue with: the appellation system was not a French concept–it’s a European concept and as such, it is not and never was confined to France. In fact, their demarcation and legally-binding system followed others.
    As you state, the key difference between ours and theirs is that we have no binding rules, which in Europe were intended as a guarantee toward if not quality at least authenticity.
    Our system is merely marketing.
    The sad thing is that the power of the U.S. in all things commercial has made it essential that Europeans begin to dismantle the appellation systems for our brand of marketing.

  2. Morton Leslie - July 15, 2009

    A standard poodle is a good hunting dog if I am not mistaken. It is as smart as they come, gentle, friendly, and it doesn’t shed. All the makings of a favorite breed except of course if fawn over it, powder and perfume it, breed it in tiny versions, and with a bureaucracy (like the AKA) make sure it will never win Best of Show lest it appear in a ridiculous hairdo.
    If I am not mistaken France is a country blessed with unmatched beauty, climate and soil, populated by an intelligent, tasteful, and kind people who have the world’s finest and most varied foodstuffs and, in my view, the world’s greatest cuisine. But it too has a problem rooted in bureaucracy.
    The “French Problem” is not their labeling or the use of the French language on labels. The problem is that often the wines don’t taste good. And at the root of that problem is an appellation system that stifles creativity with rules that are intended to preserve and protect the status quo. We read how the French are going to change, but I see no evidence that they really get it.
    The solution for them is not a Labradoodle, instead they need to go back to their roots.

  3. Greg Roberts - July 15, 2009

    One thing I’m convinced of is that France doesn’t do mass produced wines (except champagne) very well. Sure there’s decent brands like Mouton Cadet, Fat Bastard & Red Bicyclette (Gallo) but the vast majority of wine come from small family owned producers. More often than not the French wine we encounter in the US is from one of these or other big producers or negociants. True, small producers can also make indifferent wines but many do ‘get it’ and are producing fantastic wines.
    How much creativity do we really need from the AOC system? The crux of the system is to restrict yields and which grape varieties can be planted where.

  4. Morton Leslie - July 15, 2009

    Greg, if you actually look at what is done given the liberal allowed blending of vintages by the AOC (5 times that allowed in U.S.)the actual amount of wine produced per vintage per acre often exceeds the norms of Napa or Sonoma. In the Napa Valley we cannot blend off the effects of overcropping of one vintage into a subsequent vintage and still label it with a vintage date. We have to do it right every year.
    A system mandating the grape variety is great for those blessed with the perfect soil for the permitted variety and it ensures there can be no competition from neighbors not so fortunate. Instead of finding a more suitable grape variety for a specific terroir, the less fortunate grower has the choice of making inferior wine or no wine at all.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - July 15, 2009

    No sense in arguing the appellation concept–it has been bastardized there, and it never was even tried here.
    The original rules were established to guarantee against fraud, but that was in Iberia and a long time ago. Actually, Classical Greece had a kind of appellation system, as did Rome, but we don’t know exactly how all that worked.
    As for the standard poodle: he certainly is a good hunter. He’s just over a year old and already caught a chipmunk, red squirrel, and diarrhea
    His predecessor, who died last year, caught two pigeons and a gray squirrel, each catch took place on a Manhattan street while we waited for the light to turn green.
    We shave only the face, paws and tail, and give haircuts to the rest of his body.
    Having been a dog owner for most of my life, I’ve only had poodle experience with these two, and they certainly are the most affectionate, intelligent dogs I’ve ever come across.
    Contrary to belief, they are not French-inspired. I believe they are of German origin–one of the dogs used to establish the poodle breed was the Portuguese Waterdog, another Iberian concept…

  6. Greg Roberts - July 15, 2009

    Morton, I know blending of different vintages is permitted in Champagne but I’m not aware of this being permitted in any other French AOC’s?
    RE poodles-unless they are in competing in the Westminster dog show poodle owners should be fined for groomings like the one above.

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