French Wine FAQs
1. When did France begin wine production?
The archaeological evidence suggests that Greek settlers introduced wines during the 6th century BC to the Southern Gaul region of France. The Gaulians mastered the pruning process to produce mild- wine using a more refined approach than the one used in the traditional the wild-wines. At that time, wine was used as medicine and was limited to the wealthy and powerful. Later, the Roman Empire promoted Christianity and licensed large-scale wine production in the region for consumption by the masses.
2. Did foreigners influence the French wine culture?
The Greeks and Italians had significant influence in starting wine production in France. Later, the lucrative English market motivated the locals to gain winemaking expertise. The Roman Church controlled prominent vineyards and ensured a steady supply of wine to the market. Dutch were excellent traders and influenced French wine production by transporting it across Europe and beyond.
3. What was the role of Christianity in developing French wine culture?
The spread of wine culture in France dates back to the pre-Christianity era. However, the erection of the first winery by Saint Martin of Tours and the introduction of the Christian monk’s order started a new French winemaking period that spread across Europe and beyond. The Church had expertise, resources, and regulations to maintain steady wine production for religious gatherings and mass consumption in society. The strict control of wine production in monasteries guarded the Roman skills of winemaking during the dark ages and generated significant income for the Church.
4. How did Saint Martin influence French wine?
Saint Martin, “The spiritual father” of French wine, was an ex-soldier of the Roman army who converted to Christianity at an early age. He dedicated his life to improving winemaking. He invented pruning, a process to selectively remove parts of the vine to get a better harvest.
5. How Benedict’s rules shaped the French wine culture?
Saint Benedict’s rule of living a simple life focused on collective prayers and labor helped to promote wine production in French monasteries. The rule suggested compulsory agricultural work in the field for the monks. The labor duration varied with the seasons but was not less than five hours a day.
6. Did Dom Perignon invent Champagne?
Although the invention of Champagne is contested between the Benedict monk Dom Perignon and an English scientist Christopher Merrett, the monk indeed invented cork to maintain the quality of Champagne for longer times.
7. When did wine become commonplace in French culture?
During 14th to 15th century, AD, wine became a common drink for both nobility and ordinary people. Church acquired extensive vineyards and perfected the art of winemaking. The mass consumption of wine during social and religious gatherings significantly increased the demand for quality French wine. Furthermore, the shortage of clean drinking water across Europe increased wine consumption by aristocrats and ordinary people.
8. How did the French wine industry develop in the Dark ages?
During the chaotic era of “The Dark ages” the monks strictly adopted Benedict’s rules of combining work and prayer. They provided healthcare, education, and social welfare in return for the land. The Church had gained extensive agricultural land in most modern-day appellations, including Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, and even in the outskirts of Paris. In the 11th century, Benedictines owned lands comparable to wealthy aristocrats.
9. How the Church perfected the French wine quality?
The Church practiced and conserved Italian and Greek winemaking during the Middle Ages. The Church controlled the wine market in France and generated significant income. The profit was utilized mainly in building grand buildings, expanding vineyards, and improving the wine quality in France.
10. Did wine play a role in the French revolution?
In pre-revolution France, an average French consumed around 300 liters of wine yearly. The government collected more taxes on wine than all the other commodities. The price of wine nearly tripled after passing the tollgates of Paris. During 11-14 July 1789, 40 out of 84 tollgates were destroyed to pass the wine toll-free and enjoy inside Paris. The love for wine encouraged the masses to destroy authority and enjoy freedom like tax-free wines.
11. When did the modern French wine culture start?
The French revolution set the foundation of modern French wine culture. After the revolution, the state confiscated the Church owned wineries and vineyards. Most of the winemaking tools were auctioned or given free to the farmers. The state took the production and quality control. Furthermore, the well-guarded secrets of making wine were adopted by common wine-makers. To protect their quality and standards, the French started naming wines to the villages producing them, not the grape variety.
12. Why are French wines named after the villages and not the grape varieties?
The French are proud of their superior wine quality and believe that the best quality wines are produced by the locals’ suitable French climate and excellent winemaking skills. French wine producers introduced the ranking convention, Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée (AOC) to relate wines to the region producing them. The French ranking gained global recognition and is adopted across Europe and other parts of the world.
13. What is the purpose of the French AOC system?
Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée (AOC) is a French wine ranking system to mark winemaking techniques practiced in a region. Every French area has a particular climate and specific standards for making wines. So if one knows about the climate of a wine region and the laws of making wine, he/she can determine the wine style.
14. When France named wine a product specific to grapes?
In 1989, the French government passed a law to describe wine as a product produced by the fermentation of grapes only
15. How did the French wine market react to the phylloxera pandemic?
Phylloxera destroyed French vineyards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The epidemic reduced French wine production by 40 percent. To maintain the wine supply, the merchants started to add beet juice for mass production. Furthermore, some merchants bought dry raisins and added them to local wine grape juice. The practice resulted in poor-quality wines that flooded the French market. In a laboratory test of 617 wine samples, 500 wines were substandard. The government documents showed that 15 million hectoliters of poor-quality wines were sold in 1903 alone.
16. How the French government control low-quality imported grapes and raisins?
In 1907, the French government passed a law to discourage the import of low-quality grapes. The law stated that every vineyard had to register the expected harvest volume to the government. The registration saved the grape producers from merchants who imported low-quality grapes.
17. Why France needed strict wine laws?
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the epidemic destroyed the French wine industry, and the market was flooded with fraudulent wines. French started the street protest and demanded the state protect the most valuable French commodity, i.e., wine. As a result, the government imposed the strictest punishment of heavy fines and imprisonment for wine fraud.
18. How American bugs influenced French wine?
The influence of America on French wine culture was initially tragic. A pest named Phylloxerra, discovered in Eastern North America, was transported to France by a commercial transportation ship named Victoria. The pest devastated the French vineyards and substantially reduced the wine industry in the 1860s. Phylloxera was treated in the Frech vineyard by grafting vine American vine stocks.
19. Which French region was the most damaged by Phylloxera?
The Phylloxera insect damaged nearly all the major wine-producing French regions. However, the Bordeaux region was famous for traditional high-quality wine, and the vine growers resisted grafting the local vine with the Phylloxera-resistant American stocks. As a result, the vineyards in the region faced unimaginable destruction.
20. Did France import wine during the Phylloxera epidemic?
Yes, France imported a significant volume of wines from Algeria during the Phylloxera epidemic for local consumption and export to the neighboring countries. However, after the epidemic, local production rebounded, and the market was piled with surpluses. Therefore, France imposed a ban on the import and formed an appellation of wine producing region to protect the local vine producers.