Wine / Finding ways of forgiving the French

“Such was my outrage at the time that I boycotted all French wine and food; illogically, I even stopped ordering French food at restaurants,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

IT took me a while to forgive the French. On July 10, 1985, the “Rainbow Warrior” was bombed.

And I’m not talking about an attack with a sticky French dessert (bombe is a French frozen ice cream dessert that is made in a round mould).

No, this was serious and infuriating. Fernando Pereira, a photographer, drowned on the ship as it sank in Auckland harbour. “Rainbow Warrior”, owned by Gr

Richard Calver.

eenpeace, had been about to set off to protest the nuclear test program that the French were undertaking in the South Pacific and the clumsy, but successful, attempt to stop the protest ended in disaster and embarrassment. Two French spies were convicted of manslaughter but received a very light sentence. It seemed as if this illegal venture had succeeded.

Such was my outrage at the time that I boycotted all French wine and food; illogically, I even stopped ordering French food at restaurants. This behaviour lasted about a year. But even though I retain the memory, the rancour has been expunged. It was just stupidity on the part of the then-French Government. C’est tout.

I was reminded of this silent (and pretty ineffectual) protest and my renewed respect for the ways of the French recently when I quizzed a couple of winemakers here in Canberra about what was going on in the vineyards.

Frank van de Loo, from Mount Majura Vineyards, said that the grapes were just coming into veraison. This is a fancy word for the onset of ripening. It was originally a French word and we stole it. Véraison became veraison. I’m sure that you are au fait with the fact that we sometimes steal from the French language. And we owe the French so much when it comes to matters oenological. Hear what Hugh Johnson in “The World Atlas of Wine has to say about the influence of the Gallic: “When the last raindrop has been counted, and no geological stone is left unturned, there will still remain the imponderable question of national character which makes France the undisputed mistress of the vine; the producer of infinitely more and more varied great wines than all the rest of the world.”

That mastery means we adopt some of their language for the descriptors of wine making. The local Chandon website describes veraison as the process where “sugars begin to accumulate, acids decline, colour increases and berries soften”.

Ever practical, Frank van de Loo reminds me that veraison is a trigger for the roll out of protection from bird life. It takes the workers at Mount Majura about a fortnight to roll out nets to protect the vines from feathered attack.

John Leyshon, who is the president of the Canberra District Wine Association and proprietor of Mallaluka Wines, tells me that at the Yass end of Dog Trap Road, where his vineyard is located, it’s been “a really strange year”. This is a reference to the fickle weather with John indicating that it was the wettest winter he has experienced in 13 years. And when I say “veraison” in my faux French accent John says “that’s pretty good”.

“Ah.” I say, “it took me a long time to forgive the French after the ‘Rainbow Warrior’. I even gave up champagne.”

This comment was greeted with a deal of laughter: “What did the growers of Champagne have to do with the stupidity of the government?” he asks.

“Nothing”, I replied. “Rien.”

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