Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wine and War: The French, The Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, by Don & Petie Kladstrup

Barnes & Noble

The remarkable untold story of France’s courageous, clever vinters who protected and rescued the country’s most treasured commodity from German plunder during World War II.

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. This is the 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. 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.

"To be a Frenchman means to fight for your country and its wine." 
–Claude Terrail, owner, Restaurant La Tour d’Argent

I received this book from my grandfather (?) a decade ago.  I wish I had read it when he was still alive so I could talk to him about the events in this book.  Like me, he was a Francophile and we shared stories of the different trips we took around France.  He fought in WWII, but never spoke about his time code-breaking.  I wonder if discussing this book could have opened that door.

This was an interesting look at the economics of wine during Hitler's reign and the Occupation of France.  The histories of the different vineyards, the details of the wines, and the stories of the owners--some who were left to run the vineyards and others who were in hiding or sent to concentration camps--make this book come alive.

And though war is a solemn subject, humor makes itself known throughout the novel.  My favorite is the section about the wolves:

The grapes had an "exhilarating effect" on the wolves.  "I suspect the stomach of the wolf is so constructed that the fermentation of the fruit juices proceeds rapidly after the animal has eaten the grapes.  At any rate, intoxication is frequently the result." 

Monsieur Le Brun says he recalls seeing a drunken pack running by his home.  "...the wolves were all intoxicated.  That was what caused them to run into the town in the first place, and it was
also what saved the townsfolk after they had come in.  They were too drunk to remember that they were wolves...they just lay down in the street, stupidly drunk."

This book isn't for everyone: if wine isn't your cup of tea drink of choice, or you don't care about French wines, then you'll probably find this too dry to swallow.*

* pun not intended, but it totally works

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