Liberté, egalité, fraternité!
17 Apr 2007
It gives me enormous pleasure and satisfaction to see such an impressive gathering for this meeting, which will be of historical significance for European wine. It is the first time that small producers from Europe have come together to discuss the issues posed by the EU regarding the organization of the market and what rules should be implemented.
This event gives a voice to those wine producers who represent the history of a local area, memory, the strength and quality of wine—i.e. small and medium-scale producers who are now facing a difficult situation in the new European environment.
We must emphatically stress that there is a great difference between industrial and small-scale production. But when European lawmakers decide regulations they do not make a distinction, on the contrary, they are much more sensitive to industrial lobby groups, which by their nature are organized and have political influence. They say: ‘But it is all just vines and wine, you have to build up a critical mass, there is strong competition from other countries, Australian wine is invading Europe…’
I remember a few years ago people came from the New World to teach us about marketing wine; they told us we weren’t up to scratch, that the new producers knew everything about the modern market. Alright, go over to Australia now and see what has happened in these last two years and you will find that reducing wine to the level of a commodity has been a setback. And at the same time our Italian wine industry is speaking out and being
listened to when it says that labeling requirements cause problems, that denominations should be extended, that we need to have an Italian and French denomination, and so on. This approach is destroying European wine, it is divorcing it from its roots and making it into an industrial product. If we follow this path we are on course for failure, if this policy is adopted, you vignerons will lose out, but the industrial interests will be losers too.
I would like to comment on what the Slovenian vigneron Alex Kristancic said just before me, when he observed that the new EU member countries from Eastern Europe have only 660 000 hectares of land used for viticulture, less than in Italy alone, and urged us not to be worried about their competition. I would add a note of caution: 660 000 hectares in Eastern Europe may not be a concern, but what is of concern is the fact that many of those vineyards are owned by western companies—textile or hardware industrialists who reinvent themselves as winegrowers.
Thousands of hectares do worry us because they are in the hands of people who will steamroller us with that wine, which will be Bulgarian wine but worse than Australian. However they are in the EU and are acting under false pretences. Can we speak of terroir in Bulgaria? They don’t even know what terroir is, they just see an opportunity to speculate. It is necessary to make a distinction between producers and exploitative freeloaders.
Small-scale producers are not yet completely defeated, they are reorganizing, they will be able to react and we saw it at Terra Madre. Only small-scale production can defend biodiversity and the land. The President of the Roussillon-Languedoc Regional Authority, Paul Freche, and I are great friends but I disagreed with him when in his speech he stated that GMOs are a positive solution to development in poor countries. How can you, my socialist friend, come to this conclusion? What about justice? A truly great injustice is being perpetrated against peasant farmers in poor countries, the policy of expanding the use of GMOs is criminal because it exposes the most vulnerable people to the excessive power of multinationals.
It must be clear to everyone that at present we are witnessing two phenomena which did not exist 50 years ago. The first, more dramatic, is the environmental situation facing our mother Earth, which is set on a course towards a disaster of biblical proportions, not only due to global warming and the scarcity of water resources. After a century and a half of using tonnes of synthetic products, the land has become low in humus, soil fertility is diminishing. The greatest injustice is towards those who will come after us.
How did we reach this situation? Because Nature became something to control. For centuries human beings feared and respected nature, they were aware that their destiny depended on it. Now Nature is just a limitless mine which we plunder as if resources were infinite; any sort of hyper-productive reasoning is considered justified. No one thinks that it isn’t only human beings who have rights to the world, but so do the rivers, mountains and ecosystems. By virtue of their rights, human beings are destroying everything. Nature will turn from being a mother to a cruel stepmother, and then it will be too late.
If we had said this 10 years ago, many people would have thought that we were extremist environmentalists; but now it is scientists saying these things, the climate is telling us, animals with anomalous behavior, vegetation that is flowering out of season. The human community must either take note or its fate will be marked.
When the Secretary General of the FAO states that if we do not take immediate measures it is possible that the human race will be extinct within three centuries, I tremble at the thought, because three centuries is an incredibly short time in human history, it is like a few minutes compared to the life of a person. We must bring this huge problem to the attention of everyone.
And what is the true cause of all this? The idea that economics controls the world. Many of you will say ‘Of course, that’s normal’. But it is a degenerate development of modern times: economics should be at the service of the community, not the opposite. The word ‘economics’ derives from oikos, a Greek word meaning house or home: i.e. the rules for managing the human home. The economics of consumption, of profit at all costs, destroys the home. We must place the community first in our scale of values and only then economics. Local economies have been abused and disregarded.
All the previous speakers said that defending tradition does not mean a return to the past, but is a sign of true modernity. They are right: we should not return to being fearful of a cruel god, but should recover the knowledge of our forebears, who were much more skilled than us. They struggled to put together a lunch with dinner, they found intelligent solutions and could read Nature. Returning to that type of wisdom is the new modernity and it is based on two key features that we have come here to discuss: terroir and sustainability.
We are grateful to France for the untranslatable term terroir,: it cannot be expressed in any other way, it is a complex, nonlinear concept. And we must thank France for this, because it has forced economics to serve humans. This makes a difference.
It has been said that industrialists also use the concept of terroir because it suits them. But the term terroir is closely connected to the management of limits, it is not a concept that can be made subject to market economics. Who manages limits more than a vigneron? Any vignerons who do not have this awareness have changed their inner nature, they have crossed the dividing line and no longer have a relationship with the terroir. They are unhappy, stressed by the pressure of productivity and the market, more involved with marketing than the land.
Managing limits is the economic strength of the terroir. It is there that we will win against the multinationals, because this phenomenon of limits will allow vignerons to establish a human relationship with consumers. I can still remember my delight when at the beginning of my Slow Food activity I would visit wine producers and get to know the vignerons. There was, and there still is today, a powerful force that the world of wine can communicate: humanity, a relationship between the earth and humans. We are beginning to recognize the differences between small-scale producers of the same type of cheese… it’s a bit more difficult discovering the differences between different types of onion. But this is not the case for wine, its nuances can easily be recognized.
Vignerons must become leaders in the agricultural sector. You must be part of this complex situation and become leading figures in making economics serve the community, our common home. You have the most powerful political strength in Europe and do not realize it; you have this strength because you defend the land and local area. But where do politicians get their votes from? They get their votes from those who live in the local area, and you must begin to exert some virtuous influence.
I must now sound a note of friendly criticism: you do not have a concept of unity. Instead of practicing unity in diversity, you practice diversity in diversity. If small and medium producers were more united—instead of constantly examining what your neighbors are up to—you would have enormous power. It is not true that the industrial world is united, what happens is that it comes together at the right moment. But as soon as you create an association, you split it, you immediately try and find a reason to break up. That way you don’t get very far.
This is the first meeting of small-scale European winegrowers, each one of you will have good reasons to say ‘How wonderful is my country’, but your diversity must be transformed into the strength of unity if you want Brussels to listen and if you want consumers to become your partners and not give in to the blandishments of advertising. You have a unique power in Europe.
You will be thinking: ‘And what should we do now?’ Well, let’s exchange opinions, get to know each other, start making friendships and then gradually we will achieve sufficient strength to make people realize that the world of small-scale farming still has its feet firmly planted in the ground. In the process this identity of unity in diversity will be very fruitful, provided that we maintain our public-spirited values.
I think of the famous motto of the French Revolution, Liberté, egalité, fraternité. Fraternity, one of the three key concepts, has always been something of a poor relation; it is now the moment to practice it to overcome differences of opinion. If the rural world bears in mind the concept of fraternity it can defend itself and survive. Europe will have to listen, sooner or later.
Adapted by Ronnie Richards
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