Wine Book review : Wine & War

My posting schedule has been a little bit irregular lately and not as assiduous as I would have liked. I was a little preoccupied by professional matters which made it hard for me to focus on writing blog posts. Hopefully my work situation is all worked out now so I can get back on track.

First order of business, a review of another wine book, Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup.  My trusty sidekick lend me the book a while ago and I finished it last month. It’s definitely worth a review. I guess the subtitle of the book would work as a summary: The French, the Nazis & the battle for France’s greatest treasure. Anybody interested?


Good. As I was saying, it’s a pretty great book, I might be biased because it’s about History and wine, arguably my two favorite things, but bear with me. Basically the book is a series of vignettes, in chronological order, about what happened to some wine producers WWII. Not only during the Phoney War and the actual war, but mostly during the Occupation.

I’m into History and I never realized how bad French people actually had it during the occupation. I mean I knew that being occupied and ruled by a puppet dictator was bad, but I didn’t realize how much people were actually starving. See, the Germans wanted to treat France as their national pantry, shipping all food production to Germany. And that included wine. They actually set up a dedicated organization to manage the plundering of French wine production with actual weinfurhers set up for each wine producing region.

Wine, as a prestige product and a symbol of French culture was a target of the Nazi occupants and the pillage of the best vintages was organized. Luckily, French producers and negociants acted fast, burying their best bottles, walling them inside cellars, switching labels with bad quality wine… All those measures helped but could not prevent the damage.

One of the most touching episodes told in the book takes place in a prisoner camp in Germany. French POWs are cold, worried, half-starved and homesick. One of the POWs, an ex-wine producer decides to organize a wine dinner for the whole camp with care packages from their families. It turns into a huge, month long project and culminates in a day long wine seminar topped by a tasting. For a day, wine helped prisoners forget about the stalag and enjoy a bit of their culture. That was definitely my favorite passage.

You’ll learn a few wine terms and some bit and pieces about winemaking and classic bottles and vintages, but for wine lovers, the fun part will be picking up names of producers they have heard of. Most of those names still live on today in the wine business: Huet at Vouvray, Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, Drouhin in Burgundy, Piper in Champagne… The most marking name, in my opinion was the Hugel family from Alsace. One of their son ended up conscripted in the German army and the other one fled to London to join the Free French Forces. That is some Greek tragedy material right here. Luckily, it ended well.

There you have it. I thought it was a great book but I am 1) a student of History and 2) French so I have a vested interest in the subject matter. I wonder if someone who is “just” a wine lover would enjoy it too.

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