on 8 May 2005
I enjoyed this book immensely. It was factual and informative and despite being set in depressing times, an underlying humour and deviance is never far from the surface. The book is perfect for amateur wine buffs (like me) and amateur historians (like me) who are interested in daily life during World War Two. The ingenuity of the French was amazing but, after all, they were protecting their greatest asset. By the end of this book Vichy france does not come out too well but at least france lived to fight another day with her vineyards pretty much intact. Vive La France.
on 3 December 2010
This is a pretty good account of what happened in and around the French wine industry in the early to mid 1940's. The book makes an attempt to show not only the thuggish behaviour of some German soldiers in the early days of invasion, but also the better and in fact usually very polite of the same forces thereafter.
The collapse of the French forces in 1940 and the subsequent squirming of the vineyard owners to fit in somewhere between outright collaboration and outright support for the foreign agents and other riff-raff of the Resistance and Maquis is fairly well told.
I was interested to see that the French called the Germans who came to buy (not seize) wine by a pidgin phrase "les weinfuhrers"! One of the main "weinfuhrers" was a man whose family had owned a Bordeaux vineyard before WW1 and whose family had had that vineyard confiscated during that war. After the Second World War, the German returned and eventually bought another vineyard. Life goes on. Europe goes on.
A very good read on the whole.
on 9 September 2012
Oddly, the book starts at the end of the war, when one Sergeant de Nonencourt of the French Army found himself in Berchtesgaden alongside the Americans. There, he and his men helped to `liberate' many bottles of the finest champagne that the Nazis had been hoarding. Quite incredibly, Sergeant de Nonencourt was not only from the Champagne region, but his family was (and still is) in the champagne business and he had witnessed the Germans carrying away those same bottles back in 1940.
Thus begins Wine and War, a book which tells the wartime story of `France's greatest treasure' - her wine.It's an unusual angle, but the Kladstrups succeed in presenting an informative, poignant and highly readable account of how France, with particular emphasis on the French wine industry, coped with the German occupation. Hitler's teetotalism notwithstanding, many Germans from ordinary soldiers to high-ranking Nazi officials regarded the wine as the best of the spoils of war, and the Wehrmacht requisitioned tens of thousands of bottles to be sent back to Germany. This book is the story of how the vintners of France reacted to this.
There are tales of heroism, ingenuity, black humour, resistance and (it has to be said) a few actions which verge on collaboration - be it with either the Vichy regime or with the Germans. Some vintners, like the owners of Moët & Chandon, engaged in acts of outright resistance whenever they could, while others resisted in more passive ways, such as lying about yields and relabeling inferior vintages to fool the Germans into thinking they were being given the best bottles (which were hidden in walled-up parts of the cellars). Ultimately, it is the extraordinary stories of individuals that shine through, as ordinary people risked their lives and the lives of their families to save something that they believed, with considerable justification, to be worth saving. As such, the wine at times almost becomes a metaphor for France itself.
If you are interested in the war, or interested in wine, I would recommend that you read this book.
on 17 August 2010
Wine and War
By Donald and Petie Kladstrup
A review for Cote de `Azur Men's Book Group
Lord Byron once wrote : "Glory, the grape, love gold, in these are sunk the hopes of all men, and of every nation." These words were written over a century before the German blitzkrieg crushed and humiliated France in l940.
La Belle France lay prostrate, surviving only under the protection -" I am your armour and sword "of an elderly General, Marshal Petain , who signed an armistice that led to the setting up of Vichy thereby supposedly giving the conquered some sort of authority.
There was no Byronic gold, merely a country that lost its pride. The Nazis looted in particular the most essential of Gallic pleasures: wine. Millions and millions of the finest vines, first growths, clarets and champagnes were demanded, many destined for the cellars of Herman Goering, Ribbentrop and non wine drinker Adolf Hitler. Some of the spoils of war.
French chateaus were requisitioned and eventually despoiled and German wine overseers, who, in peacetime had a friendly relationships with many French wine houses, were detailed to control the one -sided trade.
The Boche, of course, were only obeying orders, many of which were part of Hitler's plan to strip the occupied countries bare.
The Cote d'Azur Men's Book Group loved Wine and War by Donald and Petie Kladstrup both for the ingenuity of the wine growers and the fascinating glimpses into what was a secret war of courage .
Millions of bottles were labeled Reserved for the Wehrmacht and contained wine that was not so much good as bad. Tricks were played and most of the great wines, again, millions of bottles were stored by the growers in hidden underground tunnels. The death penalty faced many rebellious citizens. The Germans were cleverly frustrated when trying to transport wines, cattle and goods to Berlin. One stationmaster reported regularly that a train had been derailed. "I am sad to report Monsieur....."
Alsace became German again and some families were to have sons who fought on the Russian front for Germany and another son who fought however he could,for France.
Top restaurants in Paris tried to fool the Germans by offering inferior champagne but the invaders were not always easily fooled. Top Champagne houses in France fought endless campaigns to save their best products yet millions of bottles ended in the cellars of the Nazis.
Some French producers became very rich and some suffered for their businesslike attitude after the Liberation. Members of the Book Group talked about collaboration and were satisfied that a conquered counry has little choice but to work with an invading power
In the United Kingdom's case, the citizens of the Channel Islands survived under the jackboot but some paid with their lives.
People with long memories may regard the wine war as trivial compared to the battles and bombing that cost millions their lives, but this is an exciting story of deering do, French style and much liked by the Book Group.
One anecdote concerns a gentleman after the war who called at the Hotel Meurice and asked to see his old room. He was shown up and walked out on the terrace and saw the Tuleries. "Ah" he said to the manager, "Yes this is what I remember ." So spoke General Dietrich von Choltitz, former commander of the city and the man who was persuaded by champagne king M Tattinger, not to obey Hitler's orders to destroy Paris.
He left after refusing a celebratory glass of champagne. He said, "I have done what I wanted to do."
on 5 September 2001
This is an amusing, but poignant account of how the French wine industry coped with the Nazi occupation (the telegrams from the French station master to his German superior had me laughing out loud!). Despite the humour it stills manages to convey the fear and hardships which were imposed on the people of France. It reads almost like a novel but each chapter is based upon interviews with the people involved. If you want an 'academic' study this is not for you, but for people who enjoy their history in a more 'relaxed' style I highly recommend this.