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Time to crown unsung heroes?

Written by our guest writer, Aleesha Hansel

As the world of wine evolves so too should wine education.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the British educational curriculum not teaching wider history, and most noticeably skimming over the less-than-desirable aspects of the British Empire.

The lack of education leads, obviously, to ignorance, but also stifles critical thinking on the subjects, and the ability to look at the bigger picture.

History is, after all, written by the victor.

Within wine, education also has a bias.

Given the idolisation of French wines, people new to wine would be forgiven for thinking that viticulture started there, but the birthplace of wine actually lies in the Caucasus region. The oldest winery was found in an Armenian cave and evidence of winemaking, dating to some 8,000 years ago, is claimed by Georgia.

And yet, Georgia’s most planted red grape – Saperavi – pales in comparison to France’s Merlot when it comes to recognition.

Learning about wine, it’s easy to get swept up in the romanticisation of certain regions and grapes that have an almost consecrated affinity to the land, making them highly desirable.

Often, when we are taught about the history of wine, we are actually being taught about the history of political alliances.

Let’s take the two most well-known (and most attention-winning within formal wine education) regions – Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Bordeaux was under English rule between 1152 – 1453, and it was during this time that “claret” (from the French “clairet” – a deep coloured, full bodied rose wine) grew in popularity.

Similarly, Burgundy has a strong connection to England – with its dukes and counts largely supporting England against France during the Hundred Year War. Philip the Good even recognised Henry V of England as heir to the French throne, in the 1420 treaty.

In comparison, England’s historical relationship with the Caucasus isn’t as significant and these countries receive just a glance in the syllabus.

What I, and many others, adore about wine are the stories behind the bottles. It teaches us about geography, anthropology, history, chemistry, biology and much more. So, isn’t wine education and communication doing itself a disservice by not sharing them all with equal enthusiasm?

I recently asked a group of wine folk why we put so much emphasis in learning about wine making in France, and was given the answer that it was because they taught the wine world so much, and that it was a standard to be admired and to be emulated.

Would I have got the same answer 150 years ago when German wines were the gold standard?

Or even 2000 years ago when the Romans were educating the French in the ways of the vine?

And, perhaps most importantly, will the answer be the same in another 150 years, with the growing success and knowledge of new world and ‘old old’ world?

The seminal Judgement of Paris proved that when the safety net of indoctrinated thinking is removed, and wines are judged solely on their presentation, a new future is written.

In order to do justice not just to students, but producers and consumers, we need to teach a balanced world view of wine.