Guest comment: Oh, those dumb farmers

• This column was written for The Suffolk Times on Long Island by a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She now is a freelance writer and consultant.

By Louisa Hargrave

In a current television ad for Ocean Spray cranberry juice, a young man standing in a cranberry bog in rubber waders plays out the stereotype of a hick farmer as he witlessly dumps a bag of sugar into the “sugarless” cranberries. Images like this of farmers as nitwits has rankled me since, in 1973, I began growing grapes and someone asked me, “Now that you’re a farmer, what will you do with your mind?”

Even as I took on the chores of planting, tending and harvesting a large vineyard, I myself worried that those hours of hoeing weeds and tying vines might limit me. Wasn’t I wasting all those years spent in college, learning chemistry, history and foreign languages, while I toiled through mud, sleet or broiling sun just to get a silent vine to push out a few clusters of recalcitrant grapes?

Over the next 27 years, as I trudged out into the field or down into the cellar (usually in the company of a bounding dog), I came to realize that farming is as challenging to the intellect as it is to the body.

Still, the stereotype of the dumb peasant farmer persists. It is not limited to the United States, as I learned on a recent jaunt to the Champagne region of France. There I stayed for three nights in the village of Aÿ, in a B&B called “Le Logis des Pressureurs” (lodging for press workers) owned by Philippe and Sophie Brun. Philippe is a burly, outspoken vigneron, easily mistaken for a village peasant, though his family owns several grand cru vineyards, and the wines he makes, Champagne Roger Brun, have won accolades including Best Sparkling Wine in Decanter Magazine. ...

Brun described playing the part of the local peasant for the British TV crews that come to film the beginning of harvest every year: “The crews who want an aristocrat find the manager from Taittinger, who has never had dust on his shoes, and stands next to the vineyard in his yellow tie with bubbles on it, talking about magic. For the crews who want the pirate -- that’s me. I go out in my beret, with four days’ growth of beard, spitting, and say the same thing.”

Here on Long Island, similar scenes play out as visitors seeking atmosphere prod the local vintners to go yokel. ...

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