“Wine is a vector of culture”

“Wine is a vector of culture”
“Wine is a vector of culture”

Bernard Pivot died on May 6, the day after his 89th birthday. His shows Apostrophe and Bouillon de culture made the literary heyday of French television. Born in Lyon, he spent his childhood in Quincié-en-Beaujolais where his family roots imbued the future wine lover. We met him in Grignan, in 2018, during his show “Help, the words ate me!” “. The journalist, critic, author of the Wine Lovers Dictionary (Plon), was then a very young actor. It was a delicious interview.

Why do you say you had no legitimacy in writing this “Wine Lovers Dictionary”?
It wasn’t me who had the idea, it was the editor who knew my taste for wine and the fact that I spent my youth in a wine region. I’m not an expert, just an amateur. Wine is a vector of culture. What interests me, especially in our time when wine is decried, despised, fought, often considered as the devil, is to show that we cannot, for example, talk about the history of humanity without talk about wine. We cannot tell the world without its geography, its history, its culture, its religions. Wine is the only product of the earth that has a god in Greek and Latin mythology. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, there are vines and wine. The first miracle of Jesus is the wine which is the beneficiary. We must see the importance of wine in monotheistic religions.

There is an expression that I love but which unfortunately is disappearing, it is the wine of honor! It’s a beautiful tribute that we can pay to wine, by putting it in the spotlight. No other drink is linked to honor. These are all the reasons why I wrote this book.

You cite Hermitage, Condrieu…
At my father’s house, on special occasions, we drank Condrieu. It had the reputation of being the most fragile wine in the world. He could go as far as Lyon. Afterwards in Mâcon he was already trembling, in Tournus he was spinning, let’s not talk about Paris, there he was dead. My father took the bottle with incredible delicacy as if he were going to die in his hands. Châteauneuf-du-Pape has an absolutely incredible name for me who comes from a practicing Christian family. It was a magical wine, almost the wine of God, we rarely drank it. In my youth, we drank Burgundy and Côtes du Rhône wines and Port on special occasions, as an aperitif. I learned the other names myself later.

I have always loved wine because I worked in the vineyards in Beaujolais, until the age of 20, during the holidays: harvesting, plowing, sulphating, pressing. Except the size which was not entrusted to teenagers. Above all, I learned to chat in the cellar with the winemaker. We taste, we talk about the wine and then we talk about other things. The art of conversation, which was my way of being on television, I think I learned it there in the cellar, chatting about everything and nothing. I remember an old winegrower who worked my parents’ 5 hectares of vines, a somewhat rough character, who gave me a taste for wine. This survivor of the war of 14, I saw him cry one day of hail, two or three days before the harvest. I haven’t forgotten it.

You are also the owner of vines!
There is a hectare of vines around my country house. It was my brother who took over the property from my parents. The tropism of the eighties where everyone bought a vineyard to call themselves a winemaker, I have not given in to it. I am a cooperator because the grapes go to the cooperative cellar of Quincié-en-Beaujolais. I never wanted to usurp the status of winemaker.

Where there is a Bernard Pivot vintage!
Now that I am retired, to help the wine growers in my village, I gave them my name. I don’t make a cent from the sale of these bottles. It is chosen by a jury chaired by restaurateur Pierre Troigros. We meet one morning, the cellar presents a dozen vintages. We select the one that best matches my image, what I like. Afterwards we have a snack together. We drink the wine from the previous year. It’s friendly and a lot of fun.

Is wine synonymous with good meals?
Wine is linked to what we eat. We come back to the Christian religion, bread and wine. What’s interesting about having a cellar is choosing the wine that will go best with the dish you’re cooking. There is a construction that is both gourmet and intellectual that I find fascinating.

Exactly what does your cellar contain?
A bit of everything: Beaujolais, Burgundy, Alsace, Moselle, Champagne, few Loire wines, it’s the vineyard that I know the least well, Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhône of course, Condrieu, Crozes- Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage whites, I love this wine! With the truffle it’s incredible. And then wines from Provence, few from the South West, apart from Bordeaux. I don’t know how many bottles I have, or how many books for that matter, I don’t count them, I don’t care. Wine or book, it’s not the quantity that counts but the quality. You just need enough wines to choose from. What’s a little scary is when you go down to the cellar and you see bottles that are aging and you think you’re not going to drink them. There is a sort of race that exists between the owner of the cellar and the bottles themselves.

Do you still want to be reincarnated as Romanée Conti’s vine?
I have one in my cellar, offered by Haubert de Villaine. At Bouillon de culture, I added questions to Proust’s questionnaire. That’s why it earned me this vine and a bottle of 1961. We drank it for my eldest daughter’s 50th birthday. A great year. Unfortunately there were six of us!

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