Wartime Wednesday: Wine and War
World War II began in September, 1939 when Germany overran Poland. Nine months later, France also found herself occupied by the Germans. Initially, the country was split into the Occupied Zone (northern and western France) and the Free Zone (Southern France). However, by November 1942, the Southern zone was placed under military administration.
Life in France, especially Paris, was difficult during the Occupation as the French tried to survive the laws, deportations, rationing, and deprivation as the Germans took the best and bulk of available commodities. One report indicates that a man counted cars that passed a particular Paris café in a two-hour time span. There were three. Not surprising since gasoline so difficult to secure, many converted their vehicles to operate on coal.
One product that came under the occupying forces’ scrutiny was wine.
The history of French wine goes back over twenty-five hundred years. There are seventeen regions with Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, Languedoc, Loire Valley and the Rhone, being the most famous. Producing between seven and eight billion bottles of wine a year, France is one of largest wine producers in the world. This was also the case prior to World War II, and wine aficionados around the globe had their favorites.
Despite a love of their own country’s wines, many of the highly placed officers in Hitler’s regime adored French wine and sought to secure as much as they possibly could. Each region was assigned a “weinführer,” each with the assignment of supplying the Third Reich with an abundance of wine. The Champagne region alone was expected to provide 400,000 bottles per week.
A herculean task in a good year, wine production took hits on many fronts during the war. The 1939 growing season suffered as a result of weather, many of the fields had been damaged by tanks and mines, and as the war ground on a shortages of bottles occurred. In addition, knowing the Germans were coming, many of the wine houses hid, buried, or walled up some of their collection to prevent its destruction or requisition.
Interested in this fascinating segment of French history? Check out Wine and War by Donald and Petie Kaldstrup is an excellent book, that reads like a novel.