Thursday, November 15, 2018

French Winemakers versus The Nazi's.

Wine Red Wine Glass Drink Alcohol BenefitThe other day, I stumbled across a book on Amazon about how the winemakers in France fought the Nazi's during the occupation of France. 

I'd never heard of the winemaker's fight to keep the Nazi's from profiting by taking over an industry that provided a living for about 20 percent of France's population.

When the Nazi's took over, they saw the wine industry as a way of bringing in additional funding by purchasing the wine at rockbottom prices before turning around and selling it for a tremendous markup with the profits going to the Fatherland.

At the beginning, in 1940, soldiers would march into various Chateaus, take the wine, and transport it by the truck away to be sold but within a very short time, they created a system but they didn't count on a certain lack of cooperation.

Although the Germans appointed their experts to be in charge of the process, many of them had established relationships with the winemakers dating back before the war, so the experts tried to make things easier for the French.  Thus the French seemingly cooperated but this was not exactly true.

Many winemakers made the decision to do what they could to prevent the Germans from profiting from selling French wines.  Some growers and restaurants built false walls to hide the better wines while janitorial staff kept the dust from cleaning to make bottles of cheap wine look dusty and old so the Germans believed they were getting the good stuff.

Unfortunately many of the vineyard workers were arrested placed in internment camps before being sent to Germany as forced labor. This didn't stop some of the winemakers from getting creative.   One stored his best wines in caves hidden from everyone while another buried his in the vegetable garden under tomatoes, squash, etc. 

There is a story of one owner who managed to get forged papers claiming the bottles were reserved for a specific officer. When a troop of soldiers arrived they were told the only place large enough to hold them was the same place where the wine was stored.  Since they were fearful the men would be unable to keep away from the wine, they were billeted elsewhere. 

As the Nazis became more brutal, winemakers began performing their own acts of resistance.  For instance, they labeled one shipment of wine for Homburg rather than Hamburg so it didn't get to its destination.  In other cases, they sabotaged trains to prevent the wines from being moved to Germany.  Or they might sneak aboard trains and steal some of the wine so it didn't go to the Germans, doing it again and again until complaints came back that the wine barrels were empty. 

Soldiers were stationed near the rail station and a floater of some sort was put in the top so they'd know if any were stolen but the resistance took the wine out and filled the barrels with water so no one would know.  Eventually, the Nazi's hired locals to help watch for the thieves but it didn't help because the ones hired were the ones doing it.

Other participated by hiding Jews or helping move members of the resistance across lines by hiding them in huge wine barrels.   In addition, they moved papers and arms using this same technique, but this was done with the possibility of being caught by the Germans or being turned in by collaborators.

There are more stories that could be shared but this is just a taste of how the French vineyard owners fought the Nazi's during World War II.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.


  1. Thank you Lee for sharing these amazing stories. I love tFrench wine and now I love the French winemakers! My husband and I visited Normandy several years ago and heard many amazing stories of heroism. We also went to a wine tasting in the Loire Valley. I have many happy memories of that trip.

  2. I"m glad you enjoyed the story. When I first heard the story, I was amazed because I didn't know they did all those things.