I just finished Wine & War: The French, The Nazis & the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure. Written by Don and Petie Kladstrup, it tells the story of the German invasion of France in 1940 and the toll that the subsequent occupation took on the wine industry.
The book begins with French soldiers trying to blast their way into Hitler’s cave at the Eagle’s Nest above Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s heavily fortified retreat in the Bavarian Alps. What they found in that cave would amaze everyone – millions of bottles of intact French wine that had been “purchased” at ridiculous prices set by the Germans, or even flat out stolen from French winemakers and restaurants during the war.
After the introduction, the book tells the story of German occupation, with the German wineführers installed in different wine regions to negotiate with the winemakers for the purchase of their wine. Of course, in reality it was a sham because the French were only permitted to sell to the Germans, and at prices that Germans set.
It tells the story of the lengths the French went to to hide their best stock, and to try to pass off inferior wines as high quality ones. Although a lot of the wine was consumed by troops who probably didn’t know the difference between a great French wine and a marginal one, it was still a huge risk.
And of course, the wine industry fueled a lot of participation in the Resistance, with wine families participating or assisting others in acts of sabotage or intelligence gathering. The vast French cellars were not only used to hide wine, but to hide members of the Resistance, Jews and even winemakers who had not supported the German cause enthusiastically enough to remain below the radar.
The authors reviewed many historical documents in their research and interviewed members of several prominent wine families who survived the war. Some did not want to share information; they found it too painful to relieve the experience. Yet others opened their family’s archives and told family stories about the humorous and the difficult experience of making it through.
The book is told through a different perspective; by and large these people were not soldiers, and the authors give great detail on the impact that war has on everyday people. People who had to be incredibly brave and clever to survive, and to ensure that future generations still have the gift of good French wine. It is certainly worth a read.
Have you read Wine and War? What did you think?