Definition - What does Metayage mean?

Métayage is a historical form of sharecropping created by the Romans as an alternative to slave ownership, and after the Medieval times (700 AD), métayage contracts moved to France, Italy and Germany for propagating vineyards. The landowner and farmer/vineyard went into the metayage contracts for a set period of years where the landowner would provide the capital funds and the farmer/tenant would provide the labor for the vineyard/land. The parties would split the profits usually in halves or two-thirds-one third split, with the tenants taking the lower portion.

WineFrog explains Metayage

Originally, these contracts were used for specialists coming to help with the crops and eventually used for the expanding lower class who wanted to live on land that they could not afford. The price of running a vineyard was expensive with unpredictable profits due to climate change, soil disruption, other weather abnormalities or wartime conflicts, and the métayage system allowed for each party to have a guarantee of either property or profits.

There were many criticisms of this system due to the unfair treatment of the tenants by landlords, especially when it came to paying taxes. If both the landowner and tenant took equal share and responsibility, the contracts were very helpful in establishing new vineyards in France. Métayage most notably expanded in the Champagne region of France; vineyards were established by these contracts due to the long process and high cost of making champagne.

Most métayage contracts were abolished by the early 20th century in France and around the world. The remaining “métayage” are still established farms and vineyards today but recognized by the governments as different types of contractual agreements.

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