Vigneron or vintner? The term vigneron is a French word that means someone who grows grapes to make their own wine. It’s pretty straightforward. The vigneron does two things– grow grapes and make wine. But you might ask– isn’t that the same as a vintner? It turns out it is not. They are not the same.
Vigneron or Vintner?
The vigneron cultivates the vine in the vineyard and then brings those grapes into the winery to make his or her own wine. According to the French, one is not considered a vigneron if they simply grow grapes and then sell the grapes to a winery. They say the same is true for the winemaker. Just because the winemaker buys the grapes from the farmer to make his special wine doesn’t make him a vigneron.
The term vintner on the other hand is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a wine merchant. The word first appeared in the 15th century. It is used to describe someone who makes wine and then sells it.
I am a vigneron. I grow grapes on a beautiful 20 acre vineyard on Long Island and then make North Cliff wine from those same grapes. I am also French– or at least part French. My family was from Alsace– the beautiful wine region in eastern France that borders Germany. As a youngster, I remember my grandmother telling stories about our family in France. How they were forced to speak German in Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War. Those stories were passed down over the generations. My family was forced out of their ancestral home in Alsace in 1870 with my great grandfather being born in Paris later that year.
The German influence in winemaking in Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War had almost permanently disconnected the vignerons of Alsace from the rest of France. Sucrage and Coupage were the two practices used in German winemaking that were not practiced in France. Wines made by adding sugar– and wines mixed with other wines from outside Alsace were not permitted under French law. Adding sugar to wine was definitely something the French did not want or accept.
Why did sucrage become a common practice during the 50 years of German occupation in Alsace? The answer is simple. It appealed to German taste. The wines of Germany at that time were often sugared.
To the French, wine is a serious business.. Not only in the way it is connected to their economy. Wine is part of their national identity. French vignerons have always stressed the links between wine and Frenchness. In the past, drinking wine had been considered a ‘patriotic’ duty and the obligation of every good Frenchman.
Times Are Changing
Sucrage is a practice used in the United States. Adding sugar to wine is considered harmless and can improve taste and increase alcohol content in the wine. It is basically a secret in the wine world. Wineries don’t advertise to their customers that they add sugar to their wine. There is no law against it in the United States and it doesn’t have to be listed on the label of the bottle. So in most cases consumers never know sugar was added to their wine.
Vintners and Vignerons alike are beginning to prefer lower sugar levels in their grapes. They are asking vineyard managers to pick their grapes earlier in the season. Lower sugar in the grape makes a less potent wine and appeals to a younger generation of wine lovers. As for the French vigneron, it has never been a choice. The grape is ready to be harvested when the vigneron says it is ready to be harvested. He knows the grape harvest varies from year to year as does the sugar level. However, a true vigneron will never add sugar to his wine. It is just not French.