Friday, July 18, 2008

Panic on the streets of Bristol

A bit of quick Google searching has focused my summer research project on question number 2 first. It seems that the wine trade between England and Continental Europe was in place from the early middle ages when Britons began drinking much more wine than their dismal island could produce. The vast majority of this came from Gascony and would help to explain the Bordeaux region's long domination of the fine wine trade and markets. I think it could be argued that what Bordeaux is today is a product of the emergence of wine as a global trade commodity and therefore the first "modern" winemaking (making wine with a specific customer in mind, as opposed to the culture of Meditterenean winemaking: wine that accompanies the food and culture of your village or town). Bristol, strategically located across the Chanel, grew very prosperous in the import/export business and you could read more about it here. But to summerize they were forced to find new products in the 18th Century when London began to dominate trade with Gascony. This is where Sherry and Port and Brandy and all sorts of other beverages that are both Iberian and British in their DNA began to dominate the world market. Of course many other wines were becoming availabe, but as we learned from the lab at Rational Denial, Jefferson could easily get sherry or other fortified wines but had to go through great trouble and expense to get his Y'Quem and Lafite shipped to the States.

So it seems that Britian has played a monumental role in shaping the wine trade and therefor, In my estimation, influencing how wine is made and consumed around the world today. I need to do more research in order to verify some of my gut instincts about the effects of the Medieval Wine trade on our Old World/New World debate and I'm trying to track down a cheap (free?) copy of Dr. Margery James's book Studies in the Medievel Wine Trade. Hopefully I'll find information about wine culture and trade in the Meditteranean regions while I do this and will then get back to question number 1.

The image, by the way, is from this blog, which asserts the divine power of the Monarchy in France and rejects all types of revolution. Very interesting.


Anonymous said...

Fun post on a very interesting subject.

I wrote and presented a paper for a seminar at university once about the wine trade during the 100 Years War (the powerful Duchy of Burgundy, an English ally against the French monarchy, was heavily involved).

Anyway, you're right to look to the British as the party responsible for the modern wine trade, but they certainly didn't invent the notion of wine as a commodity. That honor, as far as we can tell, goes to the ancient Phoenicians, who spread vitis vinifera throughout the Mediterranean where it's believed to have then been spread by the Greeks and, later, the Romans (the Phoenicians neighbors to the east, the Sumerians, were notorious beer drinkers, and possibly even invented that beverage).

Beer and wine = fun, ancient drinks!

And that French monarchy blog - wtf?!? The things that are found on the internet... Still, that image is a famous depiction of a navel battle during the 100 Years War (possibly at Calais). Cool.

- wolfgang

Beau Rapier said...

Thanks for the Phoenician insight. I think I'd read about that long ago but totally forgotten. I'm trying to figure out how much ancient cultures made wine for trade only or if they made it to their liking and then when other peoples grew fond of a style the originators just went cha-ching! I'm sure bags of money or livestock or whatever was always a good incentive, but I don't think wine made for a specific market is as ancient as the drink itself.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult, if not totally impossible, to say whether or not that's the case. Sensorial pleasure and the socio-economic trends surrounding such pleasure are a) difficult to quanitfy; and b) rarely recorded outside of the modern era.

I've heard tell that the Romans were rather fond of marking the provenance of their amphorae with specific seals, and that certain patricians had preferences for one region's wine over another's. It follows from there that an enterprising merchant might cater to specific tastes.

But one critical question remains: just how much Falernum could you get for a herd of goats?

I think wine producers who are aware of an export market (ie, beyond their village) are likely to be aware of that market's tastes. I think that was true 2,500 years ago, and I think it's still true today even if certain producers say that's not the case.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion. A welcome distraction on this friday.