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In 1940, France fell to the Nazis and almost immediately the German army began a campaign of pillaging one of the assets the French hold most dear: their wine. Like others in the French Resistance, winemakers mobilized to oppose their occupiers, but the tale of their extraordinary efforts has remained largely unknown—until now. Wine and War tells the alternately thrilling and harrowing story of the French wine producers who undertook ingenious, daring measures to save their cherished crops and bottles as the Germans closed in on them.
By rooting the narrative in the stories of five prominent winemaking families from France's key wine-producing regions of Burgundy, Alsace, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, and Champagne, journalists Don and Petie Kladstrup vividly illustrate how men and women risked their lives for a cause that meant saving the heart and soul of France as much as protecting its economy. It was a extraordinary partnership involving everyone from the owners of Paris's famed restaurant La Tour d'Argent who rushed to build a wall to conceal their most precious twenty thousand bottles, to French soldiers who triumphantly reclaimed Hitler's enormous cache of stolen wines at the conclusion of the war.
Wine and War portrays the central role wine has long played in France’s military campaigns—how Napoleon ordered wagon loads of champagne to sustain the morale of his armies and how, during World War I, huge quantites of wine were shipped to soldiers in the trenches of Northern France. By the beginning of World War II, wine represented a living for nearly 20 percent of France's population and the authors chronicle the Nazis' determination to seize control of the French wine industry and its profits. At the same time, Wine and War brings to light the resourcefulness of wine producers who employed spiderwebs to "age" false walls hiding their best wines, who foisted off their worst bottles on the Germans or gleefully misdirected shipments, sending champagne to Homburg instead of Hamburg, and who sabotaged trains transporting wine to Germany. It also recounts the heroics of winemakers who hid Jewish refugees and smuggled members of the Resistance across the Demarcation Line in wine barrels, as well as the villainy of collaborators who worked with Nazi occupiers for their own benefit.
Finally, Wine and War reveals that the French were not alone in trying to save their wine. They received help from unexpected quarters: the German weinfuhrers, the very men the Nazis sent to requisition wine, whose close ties to the French wine industry mitigated their actions, and even the collaborationist Vichy regime, which recognized the importance of keeping France's vineyards French, and prevented the Nazis from seizing the Jewish-owned Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite-Rothschild.
Based on three years of research and interviews with the survivors who engaged in this epic enterprise, Wine and War illuminates a compelling, little-known chapter of history, and stands as a tribute to extraordinary individuals who waged a battle that, in a very real way, saved the spirit of France.
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Liberty, equality, and fraternity are all well and good, a champion of French culture once remarked. But, he continued, what made France truly superior to its neighbors was the French passion for wine, which "contributed to the French race by giving it wit, gaiety, and good taste, qualities which set it profoundly apart from people who drink a lot of beer."
The commentator may have had a point; after all, write Don and Petie Kladstrup, it was a well-known fact that Adolf Hitler did not like wine. Still, their leader's teetotalism notwithstanding, the Germans showed no distaste for French wine when they invaded France in 1940. Indeed, among the first acts of the occupying army was to seize great stores of wine, sending tens of thousands of barrels to the Third Reich and ordering the conversion of thousands of hectares of vineyards into war production.
Some French vintners, the Kladstrups write in this enjoyable study, went along with orders. Many others, however, including the heads of distinguished houses like Moët et Chandon, engaged in daring and dangerous acts of resistance wherever they could. Some lied about their yields; others built false walls to hide precious vintages; and still others concocted elaborate ruses, such as sprinkling carpet dust into inferior grades of new wine to give it a musty, distinguished flavor. Not every German was fooled, and some partisans of the grape died for their troubles. But some Germans, at considerable risk to themselves, also looked the other way. The Kladstrups fill their pages with memories of the wine war from both sides of the struggle, stories sometimes somber, sometimes amusing, that commemorate those "whose love of the grape and devotion to a way of life helped them survive and triumph over one of the darkest and most difficult chapters in French history." --Gregory McNameeAbout the Author:
The winner of three Emmys and the Alfred I. DuPont--Columbia University, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, and Overseas Press Club of America awards for his journalism, Don Kladstrup is one of America's most distinguished network television news correspondents. His wife, Petie Kladstrup, is a freelance writer who has written widely about France and French life. Contributors to Wine Spectator, the Kladstrups divide their time between Paris and Normandy.
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