1945: The Historic Post-war Harvest
The 1939 grape harvest seemed to be terrible for French wines, yet there was a risk of an invasion of France by Nazi Germany.
After the annexation of Austria and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the chances of a German attack increased in intensity. After the Nazi invasion of Poland, France and England declared war on Germany.
During that time, French winemakers paid attention to their vines. In April 1940, German Nazi troops invaded France and quickly surrendered.
The army of the Third Reich had no qualms about looting everything in sight. Among the main products looted by the Nazis was wine.
Aware of the fame and quality of French wines, the Nazis invaded the most significant wineries, took over the homes of great wine collectors, and demanded that part of the production goes exclusively to the Germans and that they determine the price.
Desperate, the producers and members of the most important French wine families looked for a way not to lose their best wines to the Nazis. Between false walls and many other tactics used by the French to sabotage the Nazis, the Nazi troops still looted most of the wines.
Did you know?
One of the wineries that suffered the most during the Nazi invasion was Moët & Chandon. Among the Champagne houses, it was the most looted, became accommodation for Nazi troops, and had their vineyards destroyed by fire. This company was to supply the Third Reich with 50,000 bottles of Champagne a week.
During the war period, the employees who worked in the wineries were sent to war or concentration camps, as well as many winegrowers, which caused wine production in France to be practically paralyzed and provided one of the worst French wine vintages.
The German army oriented negotiations between the winemakers and the Germans who wanted to buy the wines. The people responsible for the talks were called “Weinführers,” who knew the producers and facilitated the purchases to prevent the looting of wine by Nazi soldiers.
To the surprise of many, the German Weinfuhrers, the same men the Nazis sent to requisition wine, had close ties to the French wine industry and recognized the importance of keeping France’s vineyards French, preventing the Nazis from taking the Jewish-owned Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite-Rothschild.
French hope rose again with the news that American troops would enter the war and liberate France from Nazi occupation. The Allied invasion of Normandy took place on June 6, 1944. On that day, more than 130,000 soldiers from Allied troops landed on 5 French beaches.
On September 2, 1945, World War II ended and was considered by many. The 1945 harvest has become one of the great historic harvests of the wine world.
Bordeaux’s climate is considered more unpredictable than other wine-producing regions, but in 1945 the weather was a differentiator for Bordeaux to have the biggest harvest of the 20th century.
Considered the star of the 1945 vintage is the Château Mouton Rothschild wine, which the property was once occupied by Nazi troops and used as their headquarters. Rothschild was Jewish and fled to England during the war but returned in time for the 1945 harvest.
The 1945 harvest was smaller. On the other hand, the grapes were intensely ripe, and the quality of the wines from the 1945 harvest is surprising.
Baron de Rothschild, an art lover, chose a French artist to create the Mouton Rothschild label. The chosen French artist created the distinctive label with “V for Victory,” followed by the message of 1945, the year of victory.
With the end of the war, France and Germany continued their wine trade relationship. In a surprising gesture of reconciliation, Heinz Bomers, who was one of the German “Weinfuhrers,” became a German agent for Château Mouton-Rothschild during the war.
For the French, the 1945 vintage is considered a gift from God for the war’s end and the Allies victory.
This Day In Wine History
July 28, 1914: World War I broke on this day in history and went on until November 11, 1918. The war began following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Also known as the Great War, it was fought between two blocks of countries — the Central Powers (Germany, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, and Austria-Hungary) versus the Allied Powers (France, Canada, Romania, Japan, Italy, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States.)
September 1, 1939: Hitler’s invasion of Poland led the United Kingdom and France to declare war on Germany, starting World War II.