Sur La Viticulture du Centre Nord de la France, Dr Jules Guyot (1866)

Looking between these time-worn covers awaits an important book written in 1866 by one Doctor Jules Guyot. The same Dr Jules Guyot that has a pear which bears his name. Though he did more than what was asked of him in his day job as a physician and agronomist. He would study, detail and alter the viticultural landscape with his thoughts and ideas for the cultivation of grape vines. The impact of his work would spread throughout France, and eventually, throughout the world.

He would outline the vineyards practices and mindset of vineyard owners in 71 departments in France, over 8 volumes.The full title of this work is, ‘Étude des vignobles de France, pour servir à l’enseignement mutuel de la viticulture et de la vinification française’. With this volume, the last of the series, that I have found, he focuses on the vineyards of the the Centre Nord, which consists of the regions of the Lyonnais, Beaujolais, Loire, Saône-et-Loire, Côte-d’Or, Aube, Yonne, Allier, Nièvre, Cher, Loiret.

I found this copy nearly two years ago. The book shop, in Dijon, one of the first that I visited. I saw this original copy from 1866 and figured that I would most easily find another to chance to buy it sometime in the future. As it turned out, I wouldn’t see another copy anywhere in similar condition. I couldn’t remember where the shop was, and I figured by now that the book had sold. In Burgundy, while there is not an elevated demand for wines such as these from the public, there are aways people from the outside regions that poach works such as this, making any advertised book of this nature scarce, and quick to disappear.

A few weeks ago, I had to go into Dijon to grab a few things and honestly, I was looking forward to it. For the last five months, the city of Dijon has increased their work on the coming tramline which will provide service inside of the city. In short, the streets in the heart of Dijon have been at best impossible to navigate and detours have done their best in rendering gps utterly helpless. Whenever I am in any city outside of Nuits, I make it a point to look at any and every book shop or brocante (flea market) that I pass in the hope of finding one of the older books on my list.

Interestingly he mentions Dr Morelot (1831) and not Lavalle (1855) who is more popular today

That day, I happened to be in a corner of town that I rarely frequent. I saw a large green awning with gold script, ‘Livres Anciens’. I walked in and the elderly lady seated in the wooden chair behind an wooden table with a marble top which appeared to be quite old itself welcomed me warmly as if we had met. Really nice of her to be this sweet to a stranger. Then, in French,  ‘so, will you finally be taking your Guyot home today?’ The memory of the Guyot book rushed back into frame. She offered a discount, figuring that the price had put me off. After her holding the book that long for me, I thanked her and paid her full price, which wasn’t substantial in any sense of the word.

This is an outline detailing provignage anyhow the generational system advances

The book was just as I had remembered it to be. Brilliant condition inside, with the covers betraying the obvious care and attention of the original relieur that had covered the paper covers with the protection that a book of this importance was clear to deserve. Inside were illustrations of vineyards from the north central part of France, including vineyards of the Côte d’Or. Interesting as well were the details of the mindset of those working the vines, the vignerons. These accounts were timely in that at the same moment of his studies, the very vines which his legacy was based upon were under attack by the root louse, phylloxera.

Setting a trellising system in the region of 'Le Cher'

His system, the Guyot (single and double cane), would become popular throughout the world’s wine growing regions. Having just found this book after all of this time, I still have a lot to read. But, it is interesting to note his impressions on the vineyards of Burgundy. citing that most of them were over 100 years old, he is quick to point out there is a great pride in the region for these ancient vines and the wines that they yielded. With this reputation, he thought, was a certain lack of interest in accepting new ways to do things. He suggested that the method of planting, was problematic in ripening, aeration and efficient yields, along with pest, mold and mildew control. The common method involved a linking of sorts, provinage which entailed the cordons, once over around 15-16 years old to be lead into a new hole, adjacent to the current vine in order to create the next generation vine and resulting shoots. This new generation would be more prone to mutate (a trait that pinot noir is known for) which further encouraged diversity within the vineyards. He spoke of a general disinterest in his idea of having individual vines with a self-contained system which can have new generations of shoots and canes each year, which would not interfere with other neighboring vines, or the land which they grew in.

Some would try his ideas, but they would invariably fail, in his estimates and those planting. The problem, he said, was not the system, but the mentality of the grower. Everyone knew that vines of 3-5 years old would result in wines which were of lower quality than those which were older. This was true in both systems, the old and newly proposed. The growers, however, would be impatient in allowing the vines to reach maturity before allowing the Guyot system to establish itself. The wise would seem inferior, thus pulled out, further damaging the merits of the system. Eventually, new plantings would do well and more still would come about after the phylloxera plight.  The Guyot system was more straightforward, and allowed for a faster replanting, with decreased down time for these precious terroirs.

Much more can be said, but I have to jump into writing something related, though different in scope.

Thank you again for reading!


7 thoughts on “Sur La Viticulture du Centre Nord de la France, Dr Jules Guyot (1866)

  1. This blog is wonderful. It adds immeasurably to my enjoyment of the wine, to my understanding of the whole wine culture from the growers’ attitudes and viewpoints and to the historical perspective. But even nicer is to see the deepening awareness of the author as he develops his narrative, full of surprises both for him and the reader. It’s like a novel. It’s also well written. I hope it continues.

  2. Thank you, Peter. I really appreciate you noticing the change in tone with this entry. I’ve made a conscious effort to flesh things out a bit as I have been writing a fair amount lately.

    It will indeed continue, with an aim towards continuing to improve


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