These ‘old’ books do something amazing for me every time I open one. For one, they have a much more romantic phrasing of the French language…and yes, easier to read. This helps my French immensely. I don’t mind too much that my sentence structuring and vocabulary may sound the equivalent of olde English being spoken today. No, what is truly of great benefit is the perspective and inspiration that I draw when I read such texts. I’m not simply transported to an earlier time, I am being educated by someone that is knowledgable in the surroundings of their day.
When I look at something interesting, I often wonder about the origins of a concept, the first inklings which later develop something substantial. To this end, I was led to (MJ) Jules Lavalle and his 1855 book on the wines, history and terroir of Burgundy. After finding an original, I looked forward a four decades in learning about Danguy et Aubertin. After finding this original, I learned about Camille Rodier (influenced by Danguy et Aubertin) , co-founder of the Chevalier de Tastevin as well as many other things. I’m still looking for a good example, though they are plentiful.
The Lavalle text from 1855 is cited as providing the groundwork for the classification. He did set up the tier system, though he used five classes then. This was used a few decades later by a group in Beaune that he was a part of to establish the unofficial classification that would be further modified and then adopted by the INAO in the 1930’s. This classification is the system and further to the point, the rankings by which we in Burgundy use. There are of course a few exceptions.
Over the years, small vineyards which proved to be of high quality were consumed by larger, more famous vineyards. The lieux dits, or names places are at times still present to just a few, with the sum of the vineyard only known spoken of under one homogenous name. There is, of course great value in knowing which plots were historically known to over or under performing. Having these old texts, with the old names and descriptions certainly help.
After having my Lavalle firmly in hand, I did more research after continually seeing the name Dr Denis Morelot come up. As it turns out, in 1831, he wrote the book that was to become the inspiration for Jules Lavalle. Lavalle actually uses Morelot’s work as the solid foundation that it is to create a substantial account of the diversity in Burgundy’s vineyards and resulting wines.
After searching high and low, I learned that there was a reason Dr Morelot was so obscure. The book was left without a 2nd edition until 2009. Upon release he was heavily cited and researched, though the book was in short supply since the subject (in the way that he presented it) was such an innovation that it didn’t really sell too well outside of academics. It is estimated that only 500 copies were made. Due to the rarity of the book I had decided to purchase a new release. The style if the writing is much more poetic than Lavalle, much more about how mounds are shaped, geology is involved and how everything is interconnected, yet unique. There us more of a focus on feel and texture, rather than sheer mass and structure.
To make a long story a few sentences shorter, I recently got VERY lucky. I found an original Morelot from 1831 in excellent condition at quite a modest price. Its still in excellent nick, the same type imperfections as copied in the new (copied) version. In short, the words are the same but it is much more inspiring reading this original copy first hand. I imagine Denis Morelot sending this to press almost 180 years ago, excited to see his work in print, without truly knowing just how much his passion, studies, efforts and words would help to further benefit the understanding of such an amazing place. This truly is an exceptional pleasure to have and to hold such an amazing and inspirational resource. When I am on the road, I bring the new version to go over text which I have already read in the original. I prefer to read new chapters first in the original to capture a certain context and spirit which cannot be duplicated in the modern reproduction.
Here are a few pictures. Note there is a water stain on the front cover that will need caring for. In this era, the books were meant to be bound after purchase as many wished to have a special or personalized touch. Finding an example with the paper cover is simply astonishing.