Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review: Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup

"To be a Frenchman means to fight for your country and its wine." - André Terrail
Wine & WarThe problem with an addictive quick read is that you're done with it that much faster because you couldn't put the damn thing down. Then you're sad when you've finished in just a few days. That's exactly what Wine & War will do to you. And because I really want you to read this quick read (248 pages), I'm making this review a quick read as well. I'll tell you some cool things to perk your interest and then dip out! Get the damn book!

Authors Don and Petie Kladstrup talked to survivors of the World War II Nazi occupation of France and put their stories together in this book. They all went through different experiences and hardships, but the one thing all of these people have in common was wine.

The Hugel's of Alsace, the Drouin's of Burgundy, the Taittinger's of Champagne, and many many more.

Despite the Germans believing that the French had the strongest army in the world, the leaders of France and its military were so scarred from the loss of young men that they experienced in the First World War that they decided on a deal to be occupied rather than go through that horror again. When the Germans rolled in, however, the wine people went to work.

They hid their most prized wines immediately, knowing that the Germans would take them and, more importantly, not appreciate them. They built walls in their cellars, closing in the wines behind them, and had their children collect spiders so they'd spin webs to make the wall look older. Dust from old carpets were collected to put on cheap bottles to make them appear rare.
"Generals rarely have the power to build, they more often have the power to destroy." - Pierre Taittinger to General Dietrich von Choltitz
The first thing that Nazi leader Hermann Goering did in Paris, right at the very beginning of occupation, was drive to a famous restaurant to drink a famous vintage, only to be told they were sold out. After checking their cellar, he found that they were telling the truth. Only they weren't telling the truth, and the vintage was hiding behind a wall only feet away.

Once the occupation was better organized, a system was put into place for winemakers to sell their wine to the Germans. The chapter on the Weinfuhrers, who negotiated with the winemakers, is probably my favorite.

And that's not all. Not by a long shot. Vineyards and houses were taken over by the Germans for their own uses. The famous Haut-Brion in Bordeaux was turned into a rifle range. One vineyard owner spread rat droppings all over her house so the Germans wouldn't take it; and it worked. Other families hid their Jewish friends. With copper being taken by the Nazi's, a young man turned his barn into a chemistry lab to try and create copper sulfate to apply to vineyards.

Their lives were rough, although easier in some places. Goering said that the French could live off of 1,200 calories a day. That's half the calories that you need to survive. For the elderly it was only 850 calories. France was literally starving. And those calories included the wine that had always been so important to the French.
"What helped a lot was the wine. As the food grew scarcer, we drank more and more of it. Occasionally on Saturday evenings, we would buy ten or twelve bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, Mercurey, Moulin-à-Vent, Julienas, Chambertin, Bonnes Mares or Musigny and have an evening of drinking and singing." - Verian Fry
One of the greatest stories here is about a Prisoner of War concentration camp for French officers that blackmailed their Nazi captors into allowing them to have a wine dinner. The wine dinner turned into a two week celebration of the wines of France, leading up to everybody getting just a few ounces of wine at the main event dinner. That story in itself is worth picking this book up.

I could go on and on about all the great moments in the book but I'm going to stop right there before I even get to the liberation.

The Kladstrup's did an amazing job in telling these people's stories, and organizing them in a way to form one overall successive one. It's simply an amazing read. If you're any fan of wine, or if you're any fan of history, you absolutely must read Wine & War.


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