Ah, France, the home of wine, cheese and the Eiffel Tower. Over 7 billion bottles of wine are produced there in just a year. And, while being one of the longest producing wine areas in the world it hasn’t ALWAYS been a practice in France. It is believed that winemaking in France started over 2500 years ago and was influenced by many outside civilizations. The oldest wine press found in France dates back to 500 B.C. but is actually of Celtic origin, while other findings show influence from the Romans, Etruscans and Greeks. It’s believed that the French may have drunk wine before that, brought to them by surrounding civilizations, but the discovery of the press itself shows their blooming interest in the actual process of making wine.
The business of French winemaking, and its usefulness as a commodity, was firmly in place by the time of the fall of the Roman empire. It had become a normal, and necessary, part of life. The Romans most likely figured out the best areas to grow grapes in, but the Catholic church helped take this even further. After the Romans, the popularity of the Catholic Church began to rise and by the 5th century they had taken over the wine industry in France. The monks painstakingly planted grapes all over France, deeming even more specifically which varietals grew best in specific areas or regions. They even built rock walls around some of these areas, designating with some sort of permanence exactly where specific grapes would grow. They managed all the vineyards and made the wine for the church itself. Even Dom Perignon is named after a French monk.
The 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, insisted upon by Napoleon at the World’s Fair, was a classification system of the Châteaux, not the land itself. This is where all of the best wines and houses were established and ranked, which has had very little adjustment made to it since that day. Establishing further regions was done in the 1930’s by establishing the AOC system, or Appelation d’Origine Côntrolee. This system acts as protection to the food and wine coming from a specific region, ensuring the highest quality and authenticity.
The most devastating, and possibly well-known, moment of French winemaking history occurred in the 19th century. Phylloxera, a bug, more commonly known as a “vine louse”, completely destroyed the root stock of nearly every vine in all of Europe. It was quickly discovered that the root stocks of indigenous American varietals are resistant to phylloxera. So, the root stock from every one of the famous European houses was grafted onto the root stock of American grape varietals, believed at the time to be inferior even after being able to save the wine industry in Europe. Fortunately, France was actually able to recover their industry relatively quickly and it continued to grow into the massive wine empire we know today.
Join us this Tuesday evening as we taste our way through the wines of France at our weekly Tuesday Night Tasting. Vive la France!