French authorities have tried to outlaw hardy American hybrids for 87 years. But climate change and the natural wine movement are giving renegade winemakers a lift.
BEAUMONT, France — The vines were once demonized for causing madness and blindness, and had been banned decades ago. The French authorities, brandishing money and sanctions, nearly wiped them out.
But there they were. On a hillside off a winding mountain road in a lost corner of southern France, the forbidden crop was thriving. Early one recent evening, Hervé Garnier inspected his field with relief.
In a year when an April frost and disease have decimated France’s overall wine production, Mr. Garnier’s grapes — an American hybrid variety named jacquez, banned by the French government since 1934 — were already turning red. Barring an early-autumn cold snap, all was on track for a new vintage.
“There’s really no reason for its prohibition,” Mr. Garnier said. “Prohibited? I’d like to understand why, especially when you see the prohibition rests on nothing.”
Mr. Garnier is one of the last stragglers in a long-running struggle against the French wine establishment and its allies in Paris. The French government has tried to rip the jacquez and five other American vine varieties out of French soil for the past 87 years, arguing that they are bad for human physical and mental health — and produce bad wine.
But in recent years, the hardiness of the American varieties has given a lift to guerrilla winemakers like him, as climate change wreaks havoc on vineyards across Europe and natural wines made without the use of pesticides have grown in popularity.
Despite France’s pledge in 2008 to halve the use of pesticides, it has continued to rise in the past decade. Vineyards occupied just over 4 percent of France’s agricultural area but used 15 percent of all pesticides nationwide in 2019, according to the Agriculture Ministry…
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