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Inherit the Wind: The Trial of Olivier Cousin

In 1925 a teacher named John Thomas Scopes, a substitute teacher working in Dayton, Tennessee, found himself to be the centre of attention when he stood in the dock accused of violating the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of human evolution in any state-funded Tennessee school. The act had been introduced that very year, and written by a farmer named John Washington Butler, who had decided upon reading works by Darwin and others that the teaching of evolution was “dangerous”. Scopes – a man to whom I would gladly tip my hat – was not a renowned teacher of evolution, but subsequently purposefully incriminated himself so that a test case could be brought to challenge the law. Scopes was convicted, although the judgement was subsequently overturned, and the story inspired a play and then a film, both entitled Inherit the Wind. Looking back, nearly 90 years on, I still shake my head with incredulity that such a case should ever have to be brought before a judge.

Olivier Cousin

This week, in the Tribunal d’Angers, the trial of Olivier Cousin (pictured above) will begin. The labeling law he is alleged to have broken is perhaps not so fundamentally obscene as a law against teaching the evolution of man, but that the case has been brought is probably no less ridiculous, the potential penalty no less real. The ‘crime’, if you don’t already know it, is the appearance of “AOC” on the cartons in which he packs his bottles; purportedly this stands for Anjou Olivier Cousin but the INAO obviously see instead the initials of their beloved appellation d’origine contrôlée. I suspect this, for the INAO, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the members of the organisation having already spent too much time wringing their hands over Cousin’s other cheekily labelled Anjou Pur Breton, which not only illegally gives an origin for the wine (Anjou) but a grape variety too (as Breton is a synonym for Cabernet Franc, although only vine scientists and Loire geeks are likely to know this).

Such ‘crimes’ seem like rather mischievous acts designed to poke fun at the INAO, and for that perhaps Olivier is about indeed to inherit the wind. But this should surely not be so. The INAO’s response is immediately heavy-handed, an over-reaction to the actions of a lone vigneron. The potential penalty for Olivier is a two-year jail term, or a €40,000 fine; both are grossly excessive in view of the rather minor and technical nature of the misdemeanour. By all means make a reprimand, but bear in mind what happened to Scopes, the teacher in the famous trial cited above; a $100 dollar fine was the result of his contravening the laws of Tennessee.

I trust and hope that common sense will prevail in the case, and we see a similar token penalty for Cousin, although I confess I am not 100% confident that this will be the outcome. The judgement begins at 2pm this Wednesday, October 2nd. Those in the area wishing to show support for Oliver can, if they wish, turn up to a picnic hosted by him in the Place du Maréchal-Leclerc, in front of the Palais de Justice d’Angers. Olivier will be there from midday, with his horses and a barrel of red wine, and the judgement will commence at 2pm. For more information, see the post on Jim Budd’s blog.

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