« One must speak highly of fragility »
With these words, Stephane Majeune, winemaker at St Georges d’Allier in Auvergne masterfully summed up what it’s going to take me several paragraphs to say. We were in Fornovo Italy for a wine tasting, in the company of french and Italian winemakers, as well as many lovers of natural wines. Everyone was there thanks to the work of Christine Cogez and her organizing team. After a tribute to Jules Chauvet, an Italian archeologist spoke about his research, that showed evidence that the idea of large markets and industrialization of the means of production was already present in the 2nd century.
A week before, I had participated with B Belhasem (Languedoc) and O Cousin (Anjou) in a tasting workshop on natural wines organized by Sandrine Farrugia (oeno connection) in the Salone del Gusto. Thus I was able to participate in the closing ceremony of Terre Madre (just next door) where I ran across some farmers of « sustainable communities » from all over the world. What a gathering it was, and what distance there seemed between us! What would we be able to share? Would we speak only about seed exchanges? Or of products, their knowledge of them and how they’re used to support their families? We spoke, with a bit of condescension, about product quality, biodiversity, fair trade, and ecological values and we looked at them as exotic men, and women, for there were many women there.
It was in Fornovo that I understood what we could possibly share: the Romans of Fornovo were already turning towards productivity, but they were not yet enslaved by technology. The farmers who we met are exposing their fragility, and in so doing they have made our weaknesses apparent, and call into question the notion of our superior economy and therefore superior culture. We share with them the same disequilibrium in terms of a power struggle, when we discuss viticulture in the midst of globalization. We are all opposed to the the industrial agriculture of the western world. And they face such opposition! They expose the fragility of their situation. What a beautiful lesson! It is this that obligates us to look on them differently.
Artisanal farming, as we understood it up until the 18th century, existed in the same way for almost 10,000 years, thanks to women. In fact it is recognized that during the neolithic period, that women in hunter-gatherer tribes took control of farming, to assure their security, and that of the tribe, but above all that of their children, and therefore the future of the tribe. The cultivation of plants like barley and wheat, as well as livestock and hunting, were important to nourish their men. It was quite a revolution for this society, and it was initiated by women who felt the necessity. At the same time men were concerning themselves with the balance of power between individuals. Already there was a need for laws.
Isn’t our responsibility as natural wine producers similar? Aren’t we in a good place to gather together as colleagues, buyers, and neighbors, to ensure our existence tomorrow, and revolutionize our ways of seeing? Exposing our weaknesses, instead of starting a power struggle with the forces that dominate markets, is what we must do. Our spirituality (not our religiosity!) is a considerable force in this situation. That is to say, it’s the way we look at things when we are in tune with nature. Don’t be afraid, we farmers and other lovers of nature express this, not really with words, but with our attitudes of artistic creativity and also in the little mistakes we make in our work. Because natural wine demands a revolution from the individual who produces and transforms it, it brings the same to those who buy and consume it. Fragility is written into the process itself. I am not saying that political struggles don’t have their place, for conflict is necessary to balance social and cultural equality in our society. Right now we are at a crucial moment, when a revolution is beginning in farming, as well as in viticulture, and our place in western agriculture permits us to see this.
The farming peoples of emerging countries don’t have our economic means or our media coverage, but if they need it, perhaps we can help them get it. If we pay attention to what’s really going on around us, the energy of their fragility is also ours. Women, because they naturally carry out such energy, must have very important places in all our associations and in the agricultural field. Patience, another feminine virtue, is required in this business. The rationality of our approach will be seen when this revolution succeeds. Life is already something sacred, and after, perhaps nature’s strength and fragility will be recognized.