Terroir is an old concept in France, however it hasn’t always had quite the meaning to which we now ascribe it.
In its early usage it referred to merely the soil of an area of the country, by the 13thcentury it was being used to refer to more specifically physical properties of areas of the land, the soils properties, it’s drainage, fertility etc.
By the 1700’s its usage had come to include a sense of the soul of the person who had tended the land. Remember this is wholly in keeping with Christian teaching regarding property and work in that a person puts his god given energy into working the land, and in turn derives a portion of ownership of said land or crafted item.
During the 1800’s it was common practice in France to link the health and vitality of a person to the land in which they lived, the food upon which they ate and the work that they undertook. Thus people identified themselves with their regions and felt no qualms attributing negative qualities to ‘foreign’ regions of the country.
Wine and food were divine products of the French genius and only through their consumption and celebration could the French truly express to their full potential.
Where this story starts to become interesting is in how the small vignerons started to use it to they advantage.
After the French revolution the large monastic estates were sold off to the public, this wasn’t quite as much of an egalitarian land redistribution as could have been hoped, as the new aristocracy of those who had prospered under the revolution promptly bought up many of the large estates. They then commenced to make large scale wines with the blended fruit.
It was the smaller vigneron who merely had his patch of land who had the most to gain from asserting the primacy of his patch. By tirelessly working his land, he gave himself the opportunity to compete, at least qualitatively with the larger growers and nouvelle aristocracy.
Until the point where individual plots of land were more than just smaller sections of a larger estate, the vignerons were essentially interchangeable. The rise of terroir changed all this, albeit only for the lucky few.