I love this story — a wealthy couple buy a vineyard in the Languedoc for its theoretically-optimal microclimate for wine-making. Defying what one’s preconceptions would expect (mine included!), the results were fantastic.
In the Languedoc there is a vineyard that teaches us an important lesson about textbook learning and its application to the world. In the early Seventies it was bought by a wealthy couple, who consulted professors Emile Peynaud and Henri Enjalbert, the world’s leading academic oenologist and oenological geologist respectively. Between them these men convinced the couple that their new vineyard had a theoretically ideal microclimate for wine-making. When planted with theoretically ideal vines whose fruits would be processed in the optimal way according to the up-to-date science of oenology, this vineyard had the potential to produce wine to match the great first growths of Bordeaux. The received wisdom that great wine was the product of an inscrutable (and untransferable) tradition was quite mistaken, the professors said: it could be done with hard work and a fanatical attention to detail. The couple, who had no experience of wine-making but much faith in professorial expertise, took a deep breath and went ahead. If life were reliably like novels, their experiment would have been a disaster. In fact Aimé and Véronique Guibert have met with a success so unsullied that it would make a stupefying novel (it has already been the subject of a comatogenic work of non-fiction). The first vintage they declared (in 1978) was described by Gault Millau as ‘Château Lafite du Languedoc’; others have been praised to the heights by the likes of Hugh Johnson and Robert Parker. The wine is now on the list at the Tour d’Argent and the 1986 vintage retails at the vineyard for £65 a bottle. The sole shadow on the lives of these millionaires is cast by the odd hailstorm. No one to whom I have begun recounting the story believes it will end well. Most people are extremely unwilling to grant that faith in textbook knowledge should ever be crowned with success. We have a very strong narrative bias against such stories. It is a bias we forget once our children fall sick or we have to travel in an aeroplane, but so long as we are in storytelling mode we simply deny that systematic textbook reasoning can make headway against whimsy and serendipity. Apart from anything else, it is deeply unfair that it should.
“A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.” This is the opposite of what traffic engineers (and home buyers) have thought for decades. And it’s just the beginning of what we’re now starting to understand about the relative advantages of going back to the way we designed communities a century ago. Marshall and Garrick took the same group of California cities and also examined all their minutely classified street networks for the amount of driving associated with them. On average, they found, people who live in more sparse, tree-like communities drive about 18 percent more than people who live in dense grids. And that’s a conservative calculation.(via Tony Finch)