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Marx and the art of natural winemaking
Fernanda Eberstadt
19 December 2022
published in Issue Two

It’s the old story: a man walks into a bar. We’re in the late 1940s, and the bar is in the Ardèche, on the mountainous western side of the Rhone. The man’s name is Dard, he’s a communist from a local peasant family, and an explosives worker — an artificier — by training. Under the German Occupation, he’d joined the resistance and blown things up. He starts chatting with a stranger who asks if he’d like to buy a plot of land with some vines. Who says no to vines?

« Sure, but I don’t have any money. »

« Give me what you’ve got. »

Dard empties his pocketful of coins onto the table.

The plot’s called Les Champs. It rises vertically from a narrow valley with a stream: a few crusty old vines, southeast-facing, and a shed that catches the afternoon sun. Paradise. Later, he replants the vines and makes his own table wine, sells the surplus to friends. Was it a pact with the devil? Perhaps just a gift from whatever autochthonous deity has a soft spot for an Ardèchois too pig-headed to admit that Stalin was wrong.

That Ardèchois' son, René-Jean, became one of the most respected and revolutionary winemakers in France today. He and his associate François Ribo, makers of Dard & Ribo, were early vanguardists of the natural wine movement — wine produced with a minimum of chemicals and no artificial yeasts, « the way our grandfathers made it ».

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« You don’t kill all the living creatures; you let the indigenous yeasts do their job. »