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John Locke, 1632-1704 

When he was offered a diplomatic post by William III, John Locke declined on very particular grounds of personal unfitness: "I know noe such rack in the world to draw out mens thoughts as a well managed Bottle." Therefore the king should instead choose someone "that could drinke his share, [rather] than the soberest man in the Kingdom".

This image of wine as an instrument of torture does not encourage us to see in Locke an enthusiast for the pleasures of wine. Nor, indeed, do the philosopher's views of pleasure give us more grounds for hope. A manuscript fragment on happiness begins promisingly by stipulating that "the happiness of man consists in pleasure whether of body or mind, according to everyone's relish", and notes that "at the right hand of God, the place of bliss, are pleasures for ever more". But it concludes with the chilling reflection that what "men are condemned for is not for seeking pleasure, but for preferring the momentary pleasures of this life to those joys which shall have no end".
 
This disposition to refer all pleasure to calculation is echoed in another short manuscript entitled Thus I Think, which again begins brightly by acknowledging the principle of hedonism: "Tis a man's proper business to seek happiness and avoid misery." But Locke then ranks his pleasures very strictly, and resolves not to be "deceived by the flattery of a present pleasure to lose a greater". Wine, alas, is one of these lesser, beguiling, present pleasures: "Drinking, gaming and vicious delights will do me this mischief, not only by wasting my time, but by a positive efficacy endanger my health, impair my parts, imprint ill habits, lessen my esteem, and leave a constant lasting torment on my conscience." It is not surprising that someone who stood guard over gratification in this way might acquire the reputation of being "a master of taciturnity and passion" — this at any rate was the character that John Fell, the Dean of Christ Church, gave Locke when he was required to report on him to the authorities, and to explain his failure to entrap Locke into expressions of disaffection towards Charles II and his domestic policies.
 
Yet wine drinkers do have reason to be grateful to Locke, even if his philosophy is uncongenial. Between 1675 and 1679 Locke, already troubled by asthma and bronchitis, lived in the south of France where it was hoped the climate would alleviate his ailments. To begin with, he lodged in Montpellier, returning to England four years later by way of a leisurely tour of the south west, taking in Toulouse and Bordeaux, before heading north to Paris, and then home to England. Before he set out on his travels Locke was already a trusted associate of the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, and while abroad he did not forget his patron's interests and enthusiasms. Shaftesbury had a scheme to re-settle Huguenot refugees in Carolina. During his time in France Locke made notes on the cultivation of vines and olives, and prepared a short memorandum, dated February 1, 1679, designed to assist his patron's project. Observations Upon the Growth and Culture of Vines and Olives was intended only for private circulation within the Shaftesbury family, but it was eventually published in 1766. It contains fascinating details — deplored by Locke himself in his dedication of the work to Shaftesbury as "French trifles" — about wine-growing in 17th-century France, many of which anticipate some of our current fashions.
 
One of the most controversial aspects of modern wine-making is the use of astrology to determine when to perform certain operations related to the making of wine — typically, by observing and following the phases of the moon. Some producers who follow this doctrine certainly produce sublime wines — I would single out the Castello di Argiano in Tuscany, whose Brunello di Montalcino has a finesse and power which is quite exceptional, and whose proprietor, Signor Sesti, is guided by the heavens in the manipulation of his wines. But in so doing he is following the peasants of the Languedoc, who (Locke reports) "plant their vineyards in February; and they choose the quarter before the full, as the fittest time of the moon to do it in".
 
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