Book Review: Wine and War

We are going literary, yes we are. First up is a book review of?+¦-+?+¡Wine & War: The French, The Nazis and The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Kladstrup. The reviewer is wine-lover, former financial industry expert and current enthusiastic historian William de Villiers. Look out for further intellectual discussions in future…….

1944. Paris stands on the threshold of liberation. Uniformed thugs burst into the apartment of the Baroness Philippe de Rothschild, and, before her terrified daughter’s eyes, arrest and take her away. She will die in Ravensbr?+¦-ú?+¦-Ñck in the spring of 1945.

The Baroness, born Elisabeth Pelletier de Chambure, came from an aristocratic family with roots in Burgundy. Her fate encapsulates some of the big themes of Don and Petie Kladstrup’s book, Wine & War: The French, The Nazis and The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure (First Broadway Books trade paperback edition, 2002).

It is a book of wartime reminiscences, tragic, astounding and humorous. But it is also a tribute to the spirit of France and in particular, to France’s splendid tradition of making and enjoying wine.

The war, which broke out in 1939, was heralded by a disastrously poor vintage, and ended in 1945, a year which was to become a legendary vintage. It was described by Georges Faiveley, Grand Master of the Confr+¬rie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, as ?+¦?+º?+¦The wind of the apocalypse that blew from the east for sixty months, driving away laughter and happiness from the kingdom of vines, and leaving only the silence of death.?+¦?+º?+æ

At a stroke many of France’s traditional markets disappeared, to be replaced by the Third Reich, represented in France by knowledgeable German wine dealers in Nazi uniforms, known as the Weinf?+¦-ú?+¦-Ñhrers, imposing quotas and prices with a confidence born of invincibility.

But the occupying forces were met with a bewildering array of stubbornness, ingenuity, heroism, cunning and outright roguishness. Many are the stories of ?+¦?+º??hiding, fibbing and fobbing off,’ with adulterated wine heading east bearing tell-tale labels, ?+¦?+º??Special Cuv+¬e for the Wehrmacht.’

And there were innovations and changes in the industry some of them beneficial, like the destruction of the despised Alsatian hybrid vines by troops of excited Hitler Youth. Indeed, the authors tellingly describe 1945 as ?+¦?+º??the last great vintage of the nineteenth century.’

The book ends on a note of triumphant reconciliation.

It is 1962. Two winemakers, father and son, are watching a TV broadcast of a meeting between French President and German Chancellor. The son moves to turn it off. His father who came close to death in a Nazi concentration camp stretches out his arm: ?+¦?+º??No stay where you are,’ he says. ?+¦?+º??This is what I have worked all my life to see.’

If you’re interested in the way an industry coped with war, but more, if you admire the French and love their wines, this book will provide you with many fresh insights.


William de Villiers working on a coconut after reading "Wine and War".



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