This attempt to rewrite the wine map appears whimsical—it’s called the Children’s Atlas of Wine after all—but it contains an important insight.
For the past three years, sommelier and wine educator James Sligh has been doodling maps of winegrowing territories in an attempt to show how the wine world’s borders have stretched—an evolution especially linked to the rise of the natural wine movement. It’s a transformation, Sligh discovered, that wasn’t being represented within canonical wine atlases.
Traditional wine maps depict the appellation system. The insight behind Sligh’s alternative maps is that there are really interesting wines produced outside the appellation system, and so those traditional maps are to a degree misleading if their aim is to capture the geography of wine.
Wines made within appellations tend to be more expensive since they have a marketing advantage—consumers have come to trust wines originating in well-known appellations and will pay more for that trust. Land prices and productions costs follow suit. And many appellations have strict laws governing viticulture and winemaking. These are all incentives to make wine outside the traditional appellations.
Thus, upstart winemakers and growers with fewer resources, and experimentalists seeking to make wines with a difference, have begun to look elsewhere for their grapes. Furthermore, climate change will likely scramble the wine map in the future.
If wine education is to keep up, it may be time to expand the maps.
In plotting his illustrations, Sligh begins by working backward, making lists of some of his favorite contemporary producers located in a general geographic area, then dropping pins onto a Google map.
What he discovers is that many of his favorite producers work outside the system
In Roussillon, he found that Calce, a village that doesn’t appear in a traditional wine atlas, has become home to some of the most important wine being made in France today, including producers like Gérard Gauby, Matassa and l’Horizon.
Obviously, one persons judgment about what is interesting cannot be the basis of a comprehensive re-thinking of how to represent wine regions. But that re-thinking is absolutely necessary and Sligh’s approach is a start.