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the return of the resistant grape varieties

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Vitis

prohibita

a film by Stéphan Balay

Click on the image to watch the video (english subtitles)

AN UNPRECEDENTED DOCUMENTARY

FEATURE FILM ABOUT THE FORBIDDEN WINES

AND RESISTANT GRAPE VARIETIES

presentation

 

This is the incredible true story of six “innocent” grape varieties that were deemed outlaws by the French government. Their grapes were falsely accused of being toxic when made into wine. Selling their wine was prohibited.


Their crime? They were grapes of resistance. Resistance to pests and diseases that, for more “noble” grapes, must be controlled with chemical sprays.


In spite of laws specifically banning these grapes from European soils and attempts to demean their wines, rebellious farmers have defended their value and defied their prohibition.


Resistant grape varieties may yet have the last word.


This film takes you inside stunning rural landscapes in France, Italy, Austria, Romania and the United States where the     resistant vines are living history and their unique wines have a passionate following.

Tournage Vitis Prohibitus

shots in the vineyards conservatory of Gilbert Bischeri 

By preparing the writing of this movie I quickly got in touch with the people the closest to the subject, with on one side the former one which still make their wine and young amateur and passionate wine growers who grouped together in associations to defend these almost forgotten vines, and from the other one, the researchers and the authors of reference publications following the example of Pierre Galet, eminent ampélographe from Montpellier (France) who dedicated its life to the study and the education of the vineyard and who, even today 96 years old, keeps publishing reference books.

 

I could not ignore the terroir of origin of these hybrid varieties : the United States and in particular the State of New York. A large number of native grape varieties are still grown here, as well as French hybrid grapes, which have made the round trip between the old and the new world. Lucie Morton, renowned winegrower consultant and former student of Pierre Galet, testifies to the close collaboration between American researchers and French scientists who have saved not only the European vineyards but also the Californian vineyards also affected by phylloxera.

When we are interested about the forbidden vines we realize that it touches a wide range of themes intrinsically bound:

It is at first a historical record fascinating on the way these vines won the heart of the botanists  and arrived in France, then caused the disasters and the wine-making crises of the late XIXth and early XXth centuries. A great lesson on the debuts and the first impacts of the globalization which submerges us today.

It is then the scenario of a political and legal battle, that of David against Goliath, and whose final is not written yet.

It is also a look on our consumer society the wine-making sector of which seems completely standardized and formated by the industrialists with big blow of marketing. A history of the Taste which did not stop being a surprise and evolving.

It is another debate of ideas and testimonies in favour of an agriculture in better harmony with the country and the consumers.

It is also the societal portrait of a region: the French Cévennes and its proletarians farmers who came down in the coal mines with their bottles of Clinton, but also new farmers who propose an alternative way of working the earth, another way of envisaging the employment and the economy.

 

Stéphan Balay

My family having ties in a small hamlet of Gard of the national park of the Cévennes, I often saw a bottle of Clinton on the table during meal between friends. My father, a provocative stalk, adores amazing his friends by making them taste this forbidden wine about which he alone knows where to get it. Since a few years the "illegal" sale tends to disappear, becoming on the contrary object of claiming. Claiming against our society to the tastes formated by the big industrial groups, the claiming for an environment-friendly agriculture, claiming to bring down a prohibition been imperative by hurdy-gurdies unfounded, unfair and obsolete laws.

In the french region Occitania, but also at our Italian, Austrian neighbors and somewhere else, associations form, the activists group together and make noise. So that today pounds, specialist magazines, press articles, television reports, blogs and other forms of media are closely interested in the vast problem and in the stakes which brew behind this subject. But to my knowledge no movie was made again on the forbidden vines, no documentary proposing an overall view, documented and at the heart of the subject was realized again.

It is this movie which I wanted to make, by giving the floor to the former which immortalized the tradition of the wine of vine arbour, to the young people who have a vision more structured of the potential of exploitation of these wines in terms of jobs and economic fallout, to the passionate activists who are of connoisseurs of these plants (wine growers "classics" do not maybe have so much know-how around these particular vineyards, in spite of or maybe even because of their "formated" career).

note of intent by the director

 

 

dégustation par le jury aux rencontres des cépages cévenols

Tasting by the jury in the meeting of the wines of The Cévennes

Nowadays the history of the taste is interesting because we drink much less wine than before and today the consumer looks for a flavor, for something a little bit particular. When Freddy Couderc, french author of the reference book "mythical wines of Ardèche, Cévenne and Bas-Vivarais", presents them to people as his friend "first wine steward of France" or in laboratories, every time we ask him "what are these wines? These flavors of raspberry? Of blackcurrant and prunes? "

It is true that they have extraordinary flavors. These flavors we can obtain only if grapes reach maturity. Isabela of America has a flavor of so extraordinary raspberry that trucks tank came from Eastern France to look for the clusters in the Cévennes to return them, distil them and make them be thought of as some alcohol of raspberry.

Farmers are always afraid of premature heavy rain which we call "épisode Cévennol". Then for fear of having their harvest wasted they often collected the clusters before grapes reach maturity, what did not allow to reach the best quality and eventually gave bad reputation.

Today associations militate for the stop of the ban which exiles six vines for more than 80 years. They benefit nevertheless from a small tolerance for the productions from 30 liters to 6 hectoliters reserved for the family consumption and the associations of preservation of the heritage.

The association "Fruits Oubliés Réseau" (Forbidden Fruits Network) of the village Lasalle in the departement of Gard organizes the from now on traditional "meeting of the wines from Cévennes". A jury, made of experts and oenologists, tests wines anonymously by establishing for every sample an index card of sensory tasting. Meanwhile, outside, around thirty enthusiasts exchange experience and technical questions on the wine making. The admitted objective being to improve ceaselessly the quality of these wines. In the afternoon the tasting is opened to the public.

dégustation par le jury aux rencontres des cépages cévenols

Tasting by the jury in the meeting of the wines of The Cévennes

For Freddy Couderc  wine of Clinton is connected with the spirit of rebellion of the Cévennes. "It is the bad boy. It stayed like that. A day when I was invited in an inauguration, there was a sub-prefect and gendarmes. When they were asked what they wanted to drink they answered "Clinton!". I laughed a lot". Wine of Clinton is the symbol of what not to do and which everybody makes, it is the prohibition.

 

The Cévennes are wild lands with a rich historical heritage, the lands with multiple faces, been used to the strong climatic contrasts, the lands of resistances. The natives of the Cévennes knew how to, in spite of everything and in spite of the bans, preserve the forbidden vines.

Gilbert Bischeri, walks in the steps of his grandparents. Around his isolated farm in the hamlet of Aujaguet below the magnificent castle of Aujac, he cultivates with love vine stocks planted by his forefathers. "Here we are on rebels' lands and people did not tear away vineyards. But from the moment it was not possible any more to sell their wines, they gave up. My grandparents did not sell wine. It is what explains that the vines are still there".

He would like to see succeeding this fight to bring down the ban on 6 vines in 1934. And the way to him, it is at first to cultivate these famous plants of Clinton, Isabella, Jacquez, Herbemont, Noah and Othello.

A decade ago, Gilbert Bischeri added a new plant. One vine stock found in the nature, which grew alone. In vassal's domain, in Marseillan, where the INRA keep vines of the whole world he was told that it was about an unknown vine and that he could name it as he wanted. He baptized  it "Noir d'Aujaguet" (black of Aujaguet)".

The "wild" vine Vitis labrusca is particular, they have tastes of pronounced fruits. A taste which we like or which we do not like. People who drank of the Noah, were used to this flavor, they found insipid the ordinary wine. The Americans adored Concord which is another variety of Isabelle, more powerful.

the movie

the spirit of the wine

the curse

Everything begins in the XIXth century when the import in Europe of exotic vineyards interests particularly the botanists and the aristocrats. The Swedish scholar Linné, calls the European vineyard Vitis vinifera because it makes wine and the American wild vineyard Vitis labrusca. The botanical garden of Montpellier managed by Augustin Pyrame de Candolle makes him come with its plants and so certain American vines, as Isabella, arrive on our continent.

But this Isabella does not come alone, it is accompanied by two parasites: the powdery mildew (a mushroom) and the phylloxera (an insect). The first one destroys a part of the French vineyard in 1854 (then follows a big crisis with only 10 million produced hectoliters) and the second devastation almost all of the European vineyard in the 1880s.

So the phylloxera, discovered by the botanist from Montpellier Jules-Émile Planchon, arrives near the pond of Roquemaure at the domain of Manissy in Tavel. All the American diseases, even the black rot which was discovered in the city of Ganges in the Hérault, are the consequence of the American vineyards. And nevertheless Isabella, Clinton and other "criminals" vines are also the rescuers: we are going to use them because they actualy are healthy carriers.

 

 

 

présence du phylloxera en France en 1882

 phylloxera in France in 1882

The reconstruction of the vineyard takes time. The wine is rare and expensive. For a long time we favored the quantity before the quality. France goes out of a period of big limitation and thousands of tons of raisin were imported of Turkey to make an ersatz of wine.

At that time develops in parallel the sector of the grafting and the sector of the direct plan. The direct plans are European vines plants crossed  with American wild vines and even with Russian vines. For a long time both sectors are going to live.

The cultivated vine Vitis vinifera around Mediterranean since several millenniums was frank of foot, that is not transplanted. Further to the phylloxera and after numerous tries of treatments, so expensive as fruitless, a solution to save the European vineyards was the grafting on tolerant American vine. The first attempts on American vines end in successes mitigated according to the ground. Today, stocks are hybrids between the American vines and the European vine, combining the resistance in the phylloxera of some in the tolerance in the limestone of other one.

phylloxera
phylloxera

phylloxera

Seeing that the American vines resist the diseases, the small farmers who are not wine growers plant these vineyards easy to cultivate. They produce a natural wine without chemical treatment and a taste they like. Vines develop alone and make wines which are not too badly made a success. They are cutting-edge ecological wines.

But no treatment in vineyards is badly accepted by the big industrial groups. Before we put only simple things in vineyards, as lime, but arrival of the phylloxera, the mildew etc. launches a chemical industry which quickly takes a very big importance. The industrialists are shocked to see that these vines undergo little the diseases and that in more we do not treat them. It is inadmissible. It is necessary to eliminate that, it is necessary to be able to sell chemicals.

Many ruined wine growers left in the French departments of Algeria to create new vineyards. In 1934, with the development of the phytosanitary products, the French production plus the French Algeria and the existing stocks exceed 100 million hectoliters. The government then wants to clean up the market.

Emile Cassez, Minister for Agriculture, suggests eliminating certain vines. The vote takes place on December 24th, Christmas Eve, members of parliament are in a hurry to leave… Isabella is thus chosen in the first one, then come all the crossed   American vines: Noah, Othello and Clinton. This choice so confirms the thought of Freddy Couderc: "the pressure of the companies of chemicals is real because Aramon which offers an enormous efficiency but needs many chemical treatments was not forbidden". And to support their decisions, members of parliament assert that wines made from these vines produce "madmen and blind persons". Their production of methanol would be too high. Legend, rumor, or the truth, in any case, they are forbidden.

Two vines are added by political operation: Jacquez, very present in the President Édouard Daladier's department, and Herbemont added by the opposition to touch the Prime Minister, native of Toulouse.

 

arrachez vos cépages prohibés

communication of the French Government on blotting paper

French winegrowers have to declare, voluntarily and on the honor, their production and tear away the forbidden grapes varieties. We estimate at more than 3 million hectoliters the production of forbidden vines, that is 60 000 hectares, in 1934, then 2 millions in 1938 and 220 000 in 1945. The politics congratulate themselves on their success and on the good faith of the French until the shock of 1953 when a land registry is organized. As a result: more than 60 000 hectares of forbidden vines are counted. Nothing was torn away since 1934! Actualy, besides the personal production, these wines were sold to the black market during the war because, in this period of limitation, the main part was to drink and to eat.

At the beginning of the 60s, certain Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Minister of Finances, incites to the tearing with a 150 000 Francs (22 000 €) bonus. But his Tax inspector sparks things off in a publication which threatens the farmers of penalties, and which accuses these vines "relics of past" of producing some bad wine. The religious Catholics see an attack of the government against the Church there and refuse to tear away.

And worse still, they burn the car of the local chef of Institute of Consumer of wine and hold him. After being released he will choose the less risky position of sommelier of the famous Tour d'Argent restaurant. Finally Valéry Giscard d'Estaing increases the fine in 300 000 Francs (45 000 €), and the majority of the forbidden vines are torn away or almost

elsewhere

If the ban finds its origin in France, the European Union spread the limitations in all the member countries. Italy, Austria and other producing countries of wines are submitted to the same limitations.

By adhering to the European Union in 2007, Romania made a commitment to give up the vines which do not belong to the species Vitis vinifera or which do not result from crossings containing of Vitis vinifera. So, half of the vineyards of Romania lost the right of marketing, a loss of potential for this country which faces a real exodus of his population in search of a better life in other countries of the European Union.

In Austria a way to by-pass the legislation was found. Wines made from forbidden vines are called "wines of fruits". A mockery which always continues.

In Italy we find many Clinton in the region of Treviso. In spite of the tolerance of the legislation on the family production, Italian Clinton faces a real taboo in particular around the village feasts which celebrate this vine and are censored by the authorities.

In the United States, apart from the prohibition period that concerned all alcoholic products, these grape varieties have always been cultivated and consumed. Their resistance is particularly adapted to the terroirs and climate of certain regions, while the "vinifera" varieties are much less so. In the state of New York is the Concord Belt, the largest Concord grape growing area in the world. This represents a significant weight in terms of jobs and economy.

today

The ban, supposed to be revalued every 3 years, continues always 80 years later. But on the market of the village of Les Vans in Ardèche we sell the wine, in all the official receptions of both valleys we drink Clinton, we make even Clinton's brandy, of Cartagena of Clinton. Everybody knows that and that causes no problem.

Today associations ask for a revision of the ban and we can begin again to plant these forbidden vines. But is there a place in the culture and in the French taste for these wines there?

Freddy Couderc considers that the history of the relation in the wine is particular. At the time of the phylloxera, the wine was likened to the food. An underground worker drank 5 to 7 liters of wine a day. He gave the strength to a man to be able to work. Today we drink the wine for "pleasure". And it is exactly in these wines pleasures that these forbiden vines have a big place.

For Hervé Garnier the mentalities widely evolved, and in the profession, and in the public. Today we find more and more wines said "nature", and we still push the cork farther, we begin not to use anymore sulphites for the preservation of wines. It is possible, it is more delicate, it can produce a little bit particular wines but we find at the majority of the wine merchants there. The natural wine is rapidly growing. It is the beginning of the phenomenon which should not weaken.

The number of used phytosanitary products is phenomenal, we arrived at penetrating molecules, which enter inside plants. It puts real sanitary problems. In the long term it is not possible to put infinitely products on all the grounds. The future is in the vineyards which have a better natural resistance in the diseases.

Isabella became the main vine of India, under the name of Bangalore. It is also in Georgia, in Uruguay, in Colombia, in Brazil. It resists the cold, until -30 ° as in Korea. In Italy some made it of the flavor. In Canada, we find Concord which also resists the cold. Over there the vineyard Vitis vinifera does not hold, it dies. In Brazil we also plant Herbemont. As for Jacquez, it is the main vine of the Brandy in Texas, ideal sweet wine for the dessert, with a cigar. Why such a revival? For the same reason that they were popular in France in the XIXth century: their resistance.

2016 09 04 - CHATEAU DE PORTES - GH4.02_

meeting of the wines of The Cévennes

The curse seems ended and is outlined a progressive return of these exiles. It is what suggests the "Fruits Oubliés" association in spite of a conflict of regulations. The French decree of 1934 which forbade these vines was repealed on September 6th, 2003. But the ban stays however at the European level: in theory, since 1999, the community general regulation authorizes the wine Vitis vinifera crossed with other species of the genre Vitis, Jacquez, Herbemont (Vitis labrusca) or other Vitis, in priori everything is possible. Unfortunately it is still written "excepted the prohibitions of 1934" without any documentary evidence.

The "Fruits Oubliés" association organized in Brussels on April 26th, 2016 a wine tasting prohibitions of several countries with both Members of the European Parliament Eric Andrieu, José Bové, president of the Agricultural Commission of the European parliament (Polish Czeslaw Adam Siekierski), as well as Klaus Rapf (Arc Noah - Austria) and Franco Zambon (Italy). After the tasting the elected representatives promised to support them with some more of vigour.

José Bové

José Bové (on the left)

The activists want to break the legend: these vines do not drive crazy! Hervé Garnier, of the association "Mémoire de la Vigne" (Memory of the vine) cultivates a hundred-year-old vineyard of Jacquez. Only the members of this association can savor this wine. Did they become crazy? "We realized extremely sharp analyses on the wine, and the summary of the analysis is very simple: "nothing dangerous in your wine, except for the rare molecules of weed killers" used by the former owners". Gilbert Bischeri, him, keeps the report of thesis of a student in entitled pharmacy "The Noah, the wine which drove crazy", in which she demonstrates the opposite.

Also, at the request of the Regional Natural Reserve of the Mounts of Ardèche, a study concluded that "the wine of Jacquez thus contains a rate of methanol comparable to the one that we can find in Merlot, Cabernet, syrah or sauvignon, and is not thus more dangerous for the health, on the contrary its rate of resveratrol is very high". Resveratrol is beneficial for the health …

tomorrow

The activists of the "Fruits Oubliés" association were received to the Ministry of Agriculture on April 12th, 2016. During this meeting the representative of the Secretary indicated that there is not problems anymore on these vines (in particular on the sanitary part) and that is allowed to cultivate it. He indicated that an answer to the complaints would be given, what was not made. So, without this document and according to the legislation in force (which plans a lapse of two months to the administration to answer) capacities expressed during this meeting become definitive.

A battle would thus have been won: that not to be worried any more, in the zones of traditional culture, in the motive to plant, cultivate, sell plants of forbidden vines, to consume, to offer, to sell, products stemming from these vines, in any case without fear of pursuits in front of a repressive jurisdiction.

However, if young wine growers are already ready to market wines developed with these vines, the regulations, it, remains ambigüe. The laws were modified but limitations remain: those of the authorizations of plantations and help which public authorities or statutory bodies can refuse. The candidates for the culture of the forbidden vines see their refused demands. Procedures exist to obtain satisfaction but the effects of the prohibition delay another culture freely.

But little by little the fight seems to bear fruit and it continuous wrestling: meals accompanied with forbidden wines are relieved in the local press and an international meeting of the forbidden vines is in preparation.

The enthusiasts-Resistance fighters do not lose hope and know that soon, on tables, Clinton, Isabella, Jacquez, Othello, Herbemont and Noah will not have to blush any more nor to hide.

New resistant grape varieties for pesticide-free viticulture

 

Aware of the limits of traditional organic farming, François and Vincent PUGIBET from Domaine La Colombette in Béziers opted for an original way, that of resistant grape varieties. Resulting from multiple crosses between traditional varieties and more rustic or wild vines, these new varieties are naturally resistant to powdery mildew and mildew. The vineyard thus constituted no longer requires any pesticide.

After a few years of experimentation, this a priori utopian idea became reality. Several dozen acres of the estate, planted with these new hybrid grapes have received no pesticides for 6 years: no sulfur, no copper, no magical fairy dust, NOTHING!

Winemakers from all regions of France involved in the planting of resistant grape varieties, decided to create the association PIWI France. In addition to the exchange of experience, wine promotion, and training, the goal is to influence regulatory decisions. To amplify these objectives, the association is obviously linked to PIWI international, which is now successfully working in other European countries, notably Germany and Austria.


Resistant grape varieties authorized in France:

12 new resistant grape varieties (Swiss and German) have been included in the French grape vine varieties classification (Order of 19 April 2017):

    8 white grape varieties: Cabernet Blanc, Bronner, Johanniter, Muscaris, Saphira, Solaris, Soreli, Gray Souvignier.

    4 red grape varieties: Monarch, Cabernet Cortis, Pinotin, Prior.

Labeling restrictions are to be expected for wines from these varieties.

 

The movie is supported by

the association Fruits Oubliés Réseau

and  IGP Vins des Cévennes

© Lumière du Jour 2018 - 2020

dégustation par le jury aux rencontres des cépages cévenols