The end of a myth: it is business that makes a terroir
In Burgundy in 15th century, Port and Chianti in the 18th century and Champagne in the next hundred years, it has been the commercial success to give vineyards their value
Obviously politics, connections and other circumstances have had an important role but it is always wine business that generates richness that increases the value of the terroir and attracts investors.A prosaic explanation that might be true but certainly less charming than the idea that it is the quality of a wine that crates the myth and the value of a specific territory.This is the extreme synthesis what is said in the report by Giulia Meloni and Johan Swinnen published by Wine Economics, titled Trade and terroir: the political economy of the world’s first geographical indications.We can concentrate on the analysis of the Chianti region. After the Roman era where the eternal city was the centre of wine commerce, there came the medieval period where vineyards and wine commerce were abandoned. In the 15th century Florence and Siena held the main wine markets.
This corresponded to investments made in creating vineyards, building villas, carrying out of research and introductions of salaries for those who worked in making wines. The exporting of Tuscan wines takes off when the English-French war creates serious problems for the Bordeaux wineries and so the English traders begin to seek alternatives to the Chiaretto.
So the Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1698 cancels the ban on the exporting of wine and the impact is rapid: from 300 Hl exported in 1675 to 13.000 Hl when the ban was removed. The noble Florentine families– Antinori, Frescobaldi, da Verrazzano, Ricasoli .. got rich with their wines and understood the opportunity to protect their businesses. Under their pressure the Grand Duke III emitted another two notices in 1716 that delimited the production areas and the sale of Chianti, Pomino, Carmignano and Valdarno superiore.
Chianti was limited to the production area in the municipalities of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve and Radda recuperating the territory that had once been united, since 1384, in the Lega del Chianti, with the emblem of the black rooster that still today distinguishes the appellation Chianti Classico.
The first “appellation rules” in the world comes consequently from a lobby action of the Florentine nobility who wanted to protect their income from the production of wine. In a certain way it was also an action against the Sienese nobility who for centuries had not been very present in the Chianti territory. At the end of the Medici domain and the construction of the railways, that, mid 19th century connected Siena and the Chianti region with the port of Livorno, the Sienese area became more and more competitive and the Chianti production zone was enlarged towards south.
At the end of this very interesting report the two researchers use the common elements between the Burgundy, Chianti, Port and Champagne cases, to understand how the value of a terroir is born. The commercial success of a wine creates the value of it area of origin and produces actions finalized in protecting profits through the exclusive use of the name and the delimiting of the production area.
In fact as soon as the prosperous wine business was beginning to attract new investors and the historic wineries began to feel threatened by these, they revolted, claiming the exclusive use of the name, the defence of the integrity of the original terroir and of the lower quality of the new arrivals. The delimitation of the wine areas takes place every time the old owners have the political strength to be of importance to the governments (Chianti and Porto) and this explains why the change in rapports between political forces brings the widening of boundary lines.
It happens nowadays too, but it really is an old story: the challenge regarding the use of the name Burgundy saw the intervention of the King of France already in 1415. All things considered the value of a terroir does not come from the quality of the wines that seem in fact more of a prerequisite. It comes from the commercial success caused by the political or health contingencies such as the Phylloxera and then follows different dynamics depending on the strength of the owners with respect to the governments, from the opening of new markets or transport routes.
If all of this is true, it really is the end of a myth!