In 1934 the French government banned six varieties of wine that had been created years earlier by crossing native varieties —merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, etc— with some hardy American varieties that had been imported in the 19th century to provide phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. According to a piece in the NY Times by Norimitsu Onishi, French vintners said that the part-American hybrids “smelled like fox urine.” The government, in banning them, said they were “bad for human physical and mental health — and produce bad wine.”
But the ban was never total; six hybrid varieties could still be grown for family consumption. And it came to pass that “the American hybrids thrived all over France. Sturdier and easier to grow, they were especially popular in rural areas like the Cévennes. Families planted them on hillsides where other crops were impossible to grow… The jacquez became part of the folklore of the northern Cévennes... In the southern Cévennes, the clinton (pronounced clain-ton) reigned.”
Today, “The hardiness of the American varieties has given a lift to guerrilla winemakers... as climate change wreaks havoc on vineyards across Europe and natural wines made without the use of pesticides have grown in popularity.”
A winemaker named Herve Garnier, who bottled 3400 gallons of jacquez last year, “got around the ban by creating a cultural, noncommercial association, Memory of the Vine. A membership fee of 10 euros, or about $12, yields a bottle.”
Onishi notes that “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.”
In progressive California, wine grapes were grown in 2019-2020 on 590,000 acres, to which 3,018,688 pounds of various pesticides were applied. Wine grapes accounted for a mere 1.4% of total pesticide use by California agribiz.