Nothing can give an idea of the complete magnificence of this competition: it must be seen, and I advise those who have not yet seen it to take advantage of the last fine days of the autumn and the Exhibition to take a walk in the Jardin réservé, the most attractive place in Paris.
When some newspapers give figures for the number of visitors to the Jardin réservé, it seems to me that it is random. They give an agreed figure of 1,200 daily visitors: in our estimation, the figure must be over 5,000. The two aquariums are overcrowded; it is difficult to move around in the large greenhouse; the shed adjoining Avenue Rapp, where the grapes and potted flowers are displayed, is unaffordable; and the military orchestra still has a large and enthusiastic audience around its pavilion.
The shed, reserved for the fruits of the vine and potted flowers, contains all the varieties, old and new. The grape is, along with the pear, the most species-rich fruit. The same grower has exhibited up to 117 varieties. All varieties can be classified into three genera: wine grapes, table grapes and candied grapes. The richest genus in terms of varieties is the wine grape. The wine grape variety varies according to the latitude and the method of vinification. The same grape variety changes in quality according to the nature of the soil in which it is grown, in the same region. Thus, Gamai, the most widespread species with Pineau, gives different results in winemaking, depending on whether it comes from the soil of Beaune, Argenteuil or other places: it even changes quality in the same region, depending on whether the grape variety receives manure or not, depending on whether the soil where it grows is limed or not.
In addition to the choice of species and their variety of cultivation, the quality of a wine depends essentially on the wine-making process. It is not only because we have the best choice of grape varieties in France that our wines are the most esteemed, it is also because what I will call the science of the vat is more advanced here than anywhere else.
I remember having seen in my childhood stony hillsides, disdained even by the herds which found there a too rare grass. The value of this land was not taxed at more than one hundred francs per hectare.
Well! in my mature age, I found these poor hillsides covered with vines producing an excellent wine.
The scourge of powdery mildew appeared as a bonus offered to the crop. Land that no longer offered sufficient resources for grazing was planted with vines. What used to be worth a hundred francs is now worth four and five thousand francs.
This is precisely what is admirable about the vine; it is that it is particularly fond of land that is unsuitable for any other crop: it requires only one guarantee, the double guarantee of the sun and a soil that is resistant to humidity. For this reason, hillsides are more suitable than plains, unless the plains are sandy and close to the sea. Hence the great superiority of Bordeaux wines, guaranteed by a favourable sun and a suitable soil.
Our winegrowers will be able to make comparative studies with the foreign grape varieties, gathered in the reserved garden.
Let us move on to table grapes. Here, all the varieties tend to merge into a single type, the Chasselas. The Chasselas is a grape whose similarity can be found in Syria and throughout Africa, where the bunches reach proportions as enormous as date bunches. At Delliys, on the coast of Kabylie, I saw bunches comparable to those of Chanaan, and so large that they constituted the load of a man. It is to be believed that the Moors passed on to the Arabs the art of cultivating the chasselas: this art was all the more easily perpetuated as Islamic law forbids the fruit of the vine to be fermented. And we know that Chasselas is precisely the least vinous of all the grape varieties. This is why its cultivation is very widespread throughout the East.
However, the Chasselas of the East hardly resembles what our growers have made of it. It is more fleshy than juicy, and lacks the degree of acidity that constitutes the incomparable flavour of Fontainebleau chasselas. The Fontainebleau grape, like the Montreuil peach, is an entirely civilised product for which nature alone provides no analogue.
The reputation of Fontainebleau is in danger of being dethroned by that of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, whose golden bunches of grapes are admired by all visitors: the jury will appreciate the difference in juice and taste.
Table grapes are generally judged by the size of the berries, their size and their golden appearance. There are also black grapes with a thinner skin and remarkably large berries. Minus the colour, they look like Midsummer plums.
As an oddity, let us mention the gherkin grapes, so called because of the very elongated shape of the berries. In my opinion, this is civilisation in reverse.
In the grapes for preserving, we notice Grenache grapes of all origins. But it takes a very active intervention of the sun to give the grapes the fleshy consistency that makes them suitable for preserving. The grapes must not have a tendency to mould and must be perfectly ripe. Grapes with small berries, such as currants, are the most suitable for drying.
The peach competes in vain with the grape for fruit royalty. First of all, peaches cannot be preserved; they must be eaten in season, and the late fruits of the peach tree lose their flavour. Moreover, the peach is poor in species. At most, there are three varieties: the melting peach of Montreuil, the clinging peach of the Midi, Pau, Cazères and Cavailhon, and the later peach, which is called the vine peach.
The peach is a gourmet fruit, which will never be popularised.
The royalty would be much better competed for by the pear than by the peach.
Tell me about the pear tree, whose wood is so loved by sculptors. This first advantage that it would have over the vine is well compensated by the shoots that the latter lavishes on the winemaker's hearth. The pear is almost as rich in excellent varieties as the grape.
It is fermentable like the grape; and, under the press, it makes a sufficiently alcoholic drink, which is called perry or sweet cider, much preferable to the ancient mead. The cider pears of Brittany are particularly remarkable: it is, moreover, a species that yields a lot.
Table pears can be divided into two types, seasonal pears and preserved pears, although seasonal pears can also be preserved in a well-tended fruit tree. In this variety of the genus, we have the cresan, which seems to melt in the mouth, like an ice cream, and which by its round shape, with its long tail, has the appearance of those Etruscan amphorae, with a wide belly and a long neck: the doyenné, the louise-bonne, more elongated, all the butters whose dry peel invites the tooth or the silver knife; the poire anglaise, which is a very successful reduction of the grey butters; the duchesse, royal pear; the bon chrétien, monastic pear, whose precious species has been preserved in a cloister of Auch; almost imperceptible pips characterize it.
We would not finish if we wanted to enumerate all the species.
Winter or preserved pears are generally intended for cooking. In this variety, Angers has produced a real monster of size, the beautiful Angevine. This pear weighs several kilograms. The flesh is almost woody: cooked, it is better. Its main use is for appearance: it is used as the crowning touch to a basket of table fruit.
The apple has fewer varieties than the pear. Table apples are few in number, and can be reduced to two main types, the calville and the tree frog. Here, the progress of cultivation consists not in multiplying the varieties, but in developing the size of the fruit while preserving its qualities, no more and no less than what is done for asparagus. The results obtained are remarkable: Belgium and Prussia have particularly distinguished themselves on this point.
As for the rustic species, known as cider apples, the art of orchards disdains them, although Belgian gardeners are trying to civilise them.
It is only fair to name the principal exhibitors of this admirable collection of fruits; they are, besides the horticultural societies of Prussia and Belgium, the French societies of Paris, Marseilles, Nantes and Angers, Clermont, Orleans, Dijon, Melun, Metz, Beaune, etc., and growers who make a real science of their industry, such as Messrs. Desaine, Cochet, Jamin, Maudhuit and others, without forgetting Mr. André Leroy, of Angers, and Messrs. Baltet frères, of Troyes.
I cannot follow in the footsteps of Delille, or of Gœthe and Georges Sand, to describe to you the poetry of the orchards. I do not know in which novel of Georges Sand, the Countess of Rudolsladl, I believe, there is a chapter entitled: The Canon's Orchard, I recommend it to our readers as a masterpiece: after having read it, they will understand better the poetry of the exhibition of the Reserved Garden, of which I have just spoken, as a marvel.
Nothing is missing, not even those last autumn flowers which have so much brilliance and so little perfume. Alas! they are cut flowers; but there is a small rose bush in the ground which seems, in its already suffering beauty, to beg for mercy on 31 October.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée