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April 8, 2017

France: Arbois, Maison Pasteur

Filed under: Architecture, Europe, France, Photography, Travel, Travel, Wine, Writing — Tags: , , , , , , — anotherheader @ 11:22 am

Pasteur’s laboratory

In the Jura department of France, near the border with Switzerland is the commune of Arbois. The town of around 3,500 people is known for its cheese-centric food, theft-worthy Comté cheese, and wine. Indeed, in 1936 Arbois’ viticulture areas became the first designated “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” or A.O.C. in France. Today the Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne appellations are more famous, but Arbois was the first.

The most famous wine from this area of the Jura is vin jaune, or yellow wine. Like many of the wines from the Jura, vin jaune is unusual. The vin jaune production process produces a partially oxidized wines with characteristics that in other appellations might be judged as faults. These are definitely not wines that would typically be produced in the New World.

The traffic circle at the center of Arbois

Arbois is also notable as the residence of Louis Pasteur. Pasteur was born 35 kilometers from Arbois in Dole. He later relocated to Arbois to a home that he kept returning to throughout his adult life. As Pasteur’s scientific prestige grew he moved through a succession academic laboratories in France. Though he lived and worked elsewhere, Pasteur continued to return to his laboratory-equipped house in Arbois throughout his life; it was the only home he ever owned.

There is a connection between Pasteur and Arbois wine industry. Pasteur was the first to demonstrate that yeast fermentation leads to the conversion of the sugar in grape juice to the alcohol in wine. His discovery was groundbreaking. It laid the foundation for the science of modern winemaking. From this early work Pasteur went on to define the principles of vaccination and pasteurization, discoveries that revolutionized the world of science and health.

Mason Pasteur

Arbois has memorialized Pasteur’s house, la maison de Louis Pasteur, as a museum that is open to tourists. The house in Dole where Pasteur was born can also be visited. The French unabashedly celebrate the lives of their famous scientists.

Visitors to Maison Pasteur in Arbois can see both the house’s living quarters and Pasteur’s laboratory. Though the lab is modest on the scale of modern laboratories, it was undoubtedly high tech at its time. Visible are swan neck bottles of the type used by Pasteur to develop the Germ Theory of Disease.

Swan-neck flasks in Pasteur’s house: These are not actually Pasteur’s as scientists in his time typically blew their own glassware; these flasks are uniform and look machine made. On one flask a Pyrex brand can be seen. Pyrex only appeared in 1908, 13 years after Pasteur’s death.

As a famous scientist Pasteur also played a role as a mentor. In 1858, after he became the director of scientific studies at the École Normale Supérieure, Pasteur introduced a series of reforms to improve the standard of scientific work. The examinations became more rigid, which led to better results, greater competition, and increased prestige. In this way Pasteur undoubtedly positively impacted the future of scientific training in France.

That said Pasteur’s impact wasn’t entirely good. Some of his decrees were rigid and authoritarian and led to two serious student revolts. During one incident, “the bean revolt,” Pasteur decreed that a mutton stew, which students had refused to eat, would be served and eaten every Monday. On another occasion he threatened to expel any student caught smoking. As a result, 73 of the 80 students in the school resigned.

Even famous scientists have biological needs.

With that I suspect that the students at École Normale Supérieure sometimes wished that Pasteur spent more time at his home in Arbois. Great scientists aren’t always the best mentors.


Seeing Pasteur’s house in Arbois makes us hope that one day the United States will honor its famous scientists in a similar fashion. Perhaps one of Richard Feynman’s houses will be come a museum. Until then Feynman’s admirers will have to content themselves with renting his beach house in Baja.


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