“2008 Field Study B Report ~Glimpsing the Multifaceted Aspects of the French Wine Industry”
Twenty-three students participated in the field study B programme “the Sustainability of French Wine Industry” held for 10 days during 15-24 February 2009. Each student pursued her/his own chosen topic of research.
Agriculture is an important sector for France. In particular, the wine industry carries its significance not only from its economic aspects such as production output and employment, but also from its historical and cultural aspects. This field study has aimed to explore the “sustainability” of this sector in terms of two perspectives: “international competitiveness” and “environmental sustainability.” This time, we visited two of the most significant wine producing regions, Bordeaux and Bourgone (Burgundy) and ended our tour in Paris.
In Bordeaux, we visited those chateaux at the top of the French hierarchy, such as the Cheval Blanc, the Mouton Rothschild, the Figeac and the Pichon Longueville Comtesse, as well as those relatively large-scale production sites such as the Producers’ Union of Saint Emilion and the Rothschild winery in Saint Laurent-Médoc. In each place, we were given a lecture by an oenologist and/or other specialists about the characteristics of their soil, climate and the “terroir,” their commitment to producing high-quality wine, their awareness and strategy regarding environmental problems. Also, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to actually see the filtration process. (By the way, it is such a sumptuous privilege for those whose very first wine to taste was that of the Cheval Blanc!) At the CIVB (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux), we have received a lecture on the viticultural characteristics of Bordeaux, its marketing strategies, its environmental strategies including those for the global warming.
In Burgundy, we spent half a day at the ESCD ( Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Dijon) and were given lecture on the market analysis of Burgundy wine, students presentation on the procedure of bottle opening and wine tasting, followed by the presentation by our students on the Burgundy wine in the Japanese market. It was a very good opportunity for the students to communicate with each other. At the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessional des Vins de Bourgogne), the lecture reaffirmed us the importance of Japanese market as the destination of Burgundy wine. We had also renewed our experience of wine tasting in a lab especially designed for the purpose, receiving a detailed lecture on its procedures and methods, and tasting fine wines of the region selected by the BIVB.
Burgundy wine producers, unlike Bordeaux chateaux/wineries that tend to be larger, are composed of smaller domains. We visited the Domaine Simon-Bize where we could hear an interesting story about the negative aspects of current French social security system, poor circumstances in which seasonal workers are generally put in (and the heartwarming episode of the hostess). For our students, it must have been a precious experience to learn her experience in French viticulture without an interpreter. They seemed to have felt that wine is indeed the fruit of all the efforts and love devoted to the vines and the field. At the Bouchard, we visited an immense underground cellar which contained wine bottles that are over 100 years old.
And Paris; our final visit was to the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité) which oversees and regulates the system of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) that has a fundamental importance in the French wine industry. There, we were given lecture on “the French Wine Industry and Sustainable Development,” a perfect theme to end our programme. Apart from its economic importance, we learnt current problems and future prospects of the sector that vary considerably amongst different regions. We also acquired some knowledge about the flaws in the AOC system that they are overcoming.
The regrettable thing was that there were a few students who are slumping over the table during the seminar. I worried at first that they might have eaten something bad. Later, I learnt that they were drinking and making noises in the night before at the hotel – about which no one reported to me. All the students were required to submit a reflective essay, and I hope that they will be responsive to keep their words in the future. The group was a very active one with lots of questions, yet at the same time, there were some noisy bunch that was repeatedly warned. They should have kept self-awareness that they were there to conduct a research project, as a representative of their own university.
This field study programme was indeed a precious experience for them to learn about the history and depths of wine industry as well as its evolution into the future, from professionals engaged in different parts of the sector. The students are expected to not only make use of what they have learnt from these visits and lectures, but also to truly learn from the mistakes they have committed. I wish to end this report by expressing our sincere gratitude to those who contributed to make this field study possible.