A talking cave takes visitors through the origin of food territories in France, dating back to the phylloxera outbreak that decimated vineyards all across Europe in the mid 19th century. This fatal event led to the reorganisation of wine production in the Mediterranean and contributed to the French colonial project in Algeria.
The exploitation of fellahin (farmers) reduced them to landless peasants at the service of the new vineyard owners. The vinification of the northern coast of Africa underdeveloped the country while impoverishing the soil.

Losing Cultures examines narratives around food territories, epitomised in the cherished French notion of terroir. At the heart is the invention of an indisputable correlation between ‘origin’ and ‘quality’ for food products, which is traced back to the French colonial project in Algeria. Competition between wine producers on either side of the Mediterranean led French policy-makers to establish protectionist terminologies at the beginning of the 20th century.

When the Sun King recognised it was important to know how big his kingdom was, his cartographers realised that the water was closer than imagined, that their ruler was wrong. Measurement made France smaller than it was. Never before had an enemy taken as much territory from the Sun as his own geographers did. Corrected map of the coast of France, Cassini, French Academy of Sciences, 1679.

CLIMAVORE explores the advent of quality-controlled systems intertwined with the construction of territories driven by the need to circumscribe ‘French-ness’ in food-making, leading to a complex system of labels and certifications for the Protected Designation of Origin such as AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) or IGP (Indication géographique protégée).

Abandoned cheese ripening cave in Auvergne, one of the enclaves that resisted the 19th-century phylloxera outbreak for the longest period of time in France.

Losing Cultures takes this line of inquiry further by putting it to the test of climatic events and how they erode and reshape borders, modify flavours, and challenge the vocabulary used to describe products coming from changing landscapes. Wine producing regions in France are experiencing unprecedented droughts that are forcing them to either plant new varieties of drought-resistant grapes or shift the boundaries of their demarcated food region to cooler areas. Both strategies are currently forbidden by cultural landscape protection laws.

The work is composed of a sound piece presented in an immersive environment, echoing a natural ripening cave long since abandoned. Through a series of public workshops with experts in the fields of psycholinguistics, oenology, cheesemaking, history and anthropology, it seeks to create a new vocabulary that could connect the new characteristics of products emerging from these shifting landscapes under cultural and climatic crises.

Almanach Du Petit Colon Algérien, 1893. Depiction of a French colonial farmer cultivating wine in Algeria. Wine did not have use-value for people in Algeria. It was a commodity with an exchange-value—for colonial profit. Algeria became a testbed for viticulture. It marginalised local forms of agriculture that did not interest the French phylloxera-struck metropole.
Le Petit Journal, Supplément 1907, featuring a caricature of the Wine Revolts in Southern France against more affordable wine imported from Algeria.
Cheese ripening cave, Auvergne, France. Since caves are more variable than market demands, additional refrigeration equipment is required to secure stable temperature and humidity all year round.

A public performative tasting was held on 8 September 2018 led by meadow expert Sophie Hulin (INRA Aurillac), cheese geographer Claire Delfosse (Laboratoire d’Études Rurales, Université Lyon2), oenologist Sandrine Audegond (École du Vin de France), and PDO historian Florian Humbert. A selection of wines and cheeses helped differentiate misty from sunny valleys, north- and south-oriented river banks, years of heat waves, vegetation of different altitudes, and monoculture and polyculture pastures. Losing Cultures calls for a new lexicon, one that listens to how the sun speaks; when wine tastes like hot July and cheese like a flowerless prairie.

Climate breakdown is shifting food landscapes and boundaries, making wine producers explore more northern geographies for viticulture. New vineyards planted by Taittinger Champagne House in Kent, England. April, 2018.
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