87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2001
This is not a book about wine--it's actually a non-fiction historical thriller with wine as the prize. All you need to know about wine is what most people know: Wine is part of the French soul. It is not merely a drink or a product. It is more important than all the perfumes and fashions and cheeses put together. Even those funny cars the French make that look like vacuum cleaners. Nothing in American cultural life has similar status.
At the outset of World War II France suffered the shame and disgrace not of defeat but of total collapse. She had the world's largest army--one that gave the Germans pause, in fact-- and yet somehow was under the Nazi jackboot in about six weeks. Naturally, the Nazis set about to systematically loot the country.
Here I'd like to ask a question I've not seen asked before: the Nazis took it as written that they and their culture were absolutely superior to everyone else in the world. Why then their unbridled need to steal the cultural riches of all the nations they conquered? Some booty was sold to finance the war, but most of the cultural treasures--France's wines and artworks, for example--were stolen merely out of greed and jealousy.
When it came to looting France's wines, the Nazis were well-organized. They appointed experts called weinfuhrers to organize the theft, much of which was conducted under a charade of legality: The Nazis overvalued the mark, devalued the franc, closed all other export markets, told the producers what their prices would be and ordered them to sell the wine. Here Don and Petie Kladstrups unveil the amazingly inbred world of wine, in which everbody of importance seems to be related to, married to or employed by someone else of equal importance. As the authors show, this meant the weinfuhrers were sometimes as loyal to France as to Germany.
The winemakers resisted as often as they could and perpetrated many frauds on the Nazis. They saved a fair amount of their greatest wines and sold the Wehrmacht as much plonk as they could get away with. The Kladstrups tell how--and in doing so they have rescued a small but important piece of history. The New Europe leans toward institutional forgetfulness today--and so does France herself. Memories of collaboration intrude all too easily, and these are followed by nettlesome ambiguities and doubts. Ratting on your neighbor was collaboration, but so was trading with the Nazis--even when you had no choice. Marshal Petain, head of the Vichy government was condemned at war's end and DeGaulle hailed as a hero--but surely it was easier to be heroic in London?
There are a couple of minor factual errors and a couple of anecdotes that aren't credible, but most of this complicated but absorbing tale rings true. Some scenes the Kladstrups re-create are slyly amusing, a few are comic and many--the best of themn--are intensely moving. These were proud people, remember, whose faces were ground into the dirt by brutish conquerors every day. For five years they struggled desperately to save their lives and their families, their self-respect and their hope for a future.
It's a hell of a story.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2002
This is an engrossing, and distinctive observation on one of the many impacts of World War II on both France and Germany. It is not simply a book about French wine, but a broader study of the impact of the German occupation upon French daily life. What is fascinating is how much the Germans coveted French cuisine, and especially wine, and how gluttony inspired the Nazi government's quest to strip the French larder as part of spoils of war. "Wine and War" does indicate what a highly regarded treasure French wine represents in Western culture.
This is a terrific read if you like wine or enjoy history (and is twice the pleasure for those, like me, who appreciate both). It is not a serious, scholarly history of the war, but instead a compilation of various anecdotes -- oral history being put into print. From a historical perspective, what I found the most interesting was the author's indication of how the legacy of the harsh reparations extracted from Germany by France in World War I came back to haunt the French in terms of the German thirst for revenge in the Second World War. There is an element of suspense throughout the book, in terms of the Germans possibly killing the goose that laid the golden eggs (though the reader already knows the outcome). However, the work manages to represent that beyond the greed and thuggery of some Germans, a number maintained a sense of humanity and long range vision regarding a people who would always remain their neighbors.
You won't learn alot about wine reading this book; you will learn more about history. But what you will learn about French wine is what a covetted treasure this has regarded in any of the German-French conflicts, and what a critical part of French culture it represents.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
Having traveled throughout many of the areas covered by the Kladstrups in this remarkable book, I was captured by the not-often told history of the vineyards during World War II. While certainly not expecting a weighty academic tome about the French-German parley over the wine business, I certainly enhanced my appetite to learn more about the actual mechanics of the murky business dealings between the German occupiers (many of whom were pre-war acquaintances of the vintners themselves) and the French vintners.
The book is an easy read; and while history has obfuscated the difference between those in the French Resistance, and those who 50 years ex post facto claim to have been part of the Resistance, I believe the Kladstrups made an honest effort to provide a semblance of balance.
But for those of us who love French wine, the stories of how precious stores of vintage wines were hidden from the Nazis are truly remarkable. I would have loved to have seen a couple of more chapters towards the end of the book, demonstrating how the vineyards got back on their feet, and more importantly, how the pre-war German-French relationships were reestablished.
If you are looking for a good summertime read, this book is for you. A very casual and enjoyable read.
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
I wasn't looking for some grand new revelations about WWII when I bought this book and I didn't get any. What I did get was an easy-to-read series of inspirational stories and breezy anecdotes about how French vignerons managed to keep their livelihoods and some of their wines at a time when the outcome of the war was very much in doubt.
There is a decidedly pro-French slant to the stories, most of the Germans are made to look like bumbling Colonel Klinks and the French are mostly portrayed as patriotic tools of or members of the Resistance, cleverly hobbling German designs at every turn. To be fair, some Germans are singled out as "righteous gentiles", but these are never Mein Kampf-believing Nazis.
What I like is what I learned about the wine business. There are all sorts of little tidbits about how winemakers can adulterate wine, mislabel wine, and generally fool the general wine-consuming public, not to mention the Wehrmacht. But the book is also filled with tales of winemaking as a craft and a labor of love.
The climax of the book is foreshadowed in the beginning, when French troops were racing to be first to Hitler's Eagles Nest to get a crack at repatriating the fine wines they knew were there.
American readers who were there might well be annoyed by the feeling that the French High Command thought more about rescuing the wine than they did about helping to finish off the Nazis.
That aside, if you love wine as well as stories of good guys outsmarting the bad, then you should enjoy Wine and War.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Read this book for entertainment but do not regard it as history. Despite the many notes at the end, there is little understanding. Kladstrup places Liebling in France during the war; he was in North Africa after a pre-war assignment in France. He relates a story about hiding bottles in a pond during WWI in Bordeaux. The Germans were never near Bordeaux in WWI, except at sea. Not to say the book is fantasy, but it is a fantastic account of the light side of the war, tiny as the light side was. Imagine the conversation of aging fishermen after the third round. Enjoy and use it as a source for many other books, and especially The New Yorker references.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2001
Very early in WINE & WAR we are given a description of the bucolic and pastoral life that French winegrowers enjoyed. It was a life "of legend and myth, a life which, in many ways, had changed little since the middle ages...plowing was done with horses. Planting, picking, and pruning were done according to the phases of the moon. Older people often reminded younger ones that the merits of pruning were discovered when St.Martin's donkey got loose in the vineyards." The authors have woven together winegrowers tales, geography, viticulture science and French culture to give us a very enjoyable history of "the kingdom of wine" during WWII.
Winemaking had a history of troubles even before the war. Phylloxera, an insect that attacked the vines roots, nearly wiped out the industry in the mid 19th century; the Depression followed and then destruction from the trench warfare and artillery barrages of the "Great War". The book reveals an interesting fact about assistance America provided. We know the French are grateful for our fighting on the battlefields during both wars, but some help is probably still a bit hard to swallow. During the Phylloxera blight "the remedy was something totally un-French. Growers discovered that by grafting their vines onto American rootstocks, which were naturally resistant to the root eating louse, they could save them." Lest this fact cause us to swell with pride, the authors tell a humorous story of sacrilege committed by an American Colonel, sufficient to embarrass wine lovers everywhere. After an Allied operation near the Rhone river, the French, in gratitude presented some of Burgundy's finest wines to the Americans. Being naturally hospitable we invited French soldiers and their General to share. The "waiters marched in bearing the bottles on silver trays [the bottles] were bubbling gently"; the Colonel had ordered the wine be served hot, heating it with medical alcohol. The authors say that the French General "faced with the greatest crisis so far in Franco-American relations" nevertheless drained his glass but "murmured, 'Liberation, liberation, what crimes have been commited in thy name!'".
Humorous anecdotes and tales of bizarre behavior are scattered throughout and are used to show how the French had an all consuming passion for preserving their national treasure. The account of Operation Anvil is a perfect example. French and American troops were to attack from southern France, through the Rhone Valley and Burgundy, and link up with the Allies pushing out from Normandy. The operation was frought with delays. Perhaps its unofficial name offers an explanation. The Champagne Campaign went through parts of France renown for food, drink, scenery, and entertainment. Some strategic decisions also played a role. French General Monsabert (the same one who suffered the hot libation for liberation's sake) ensured that no more crimes were committed. He planned some attacks and it was no coincidence that the French "advanced up the western side of the Rhone, where the best vineyards were planted. The Americans went up the other side, where the lesser growths were." The French seriousness about their wine is highlighted by the fact that an intelligence Colonel delayed an attack on the Cote d'Or or the Golden Escarpment - the site of Burgundy's best vineyards - until he received a report that "we have found the weak point[s] in the German defenses. Every one is on a vineyard of inferior quality."
There were other threats that were not military. Economic crimes were committed that were perhaps even a greater disaster to winemaking. The book tells about the Weinfuhrers; former German businessmen, who, knowing the wine industry, were commissioned into the Army and sent to France for the sole purpose of administering the shipment of wine to Germany. They operated from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. There are chapters describing the massive shipments of wine to Germany, and how the French responded by hiding the best vintages, and fobbing off lesser quality wines. This section of the book deals with the intriguing economics of the business. Economic conditions grew worse as the war turned against Germany. More and more was demanded from France: wine, food, farm horses, metals, supplies, and eventually men to work in Germany. The French turned on the Vichy government, president Petain and prime minister Laval and also began actively resisting Germany. The French Resistance, there from the beginning, became popular by 1943 following the setting up of the Service du Travail Obligatore (STO), a program of forced labor where men were sent to work in German industry. Germany also began using wine as a solvent and as industrial alcohol. To ensure that it was not sold or drunk, heating oil was added; this spoilt it for human consumption, but more than anything else, enraged the French.
WINE & WAR is well written and offers a unique look at France during WWII. It will be of interest to history buffs, fans of WWII military exploits, readers who don't mind economics and geography, and of course, wine lovers.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2001
You will learn as much about the French wine industry from this book as you will learn about the French Resistance. But that is a good thing. The book brings the German occupation of France down to a very personal level. The reader will learn the interesting personal stories of the people associated with the great names in French wine. The book is very fair in its coverage, in that not all Germans are vile pigs (only some are), and not all Frenchmen are heroic resistance fighters (though some are). Overall, this is a well written book that reads quickly and will not disappoint.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
In the incomparable film _Casablanca_, Rick and Ilsa are in a café in Monmartre, worrying about the approach of the Germans to take over Paris. Rick says, "Henri wants us to finish this bottle then three more. He says he'll water his garden with champagne before he'll let the Germans drink any of it." The invaluable Sam then says it takes the sting out of being occupied, Rick says, "Here's looking at you, kid," and the Germans come on. It's a good bet they didn't get any of Henri's prized champagne. That was fictional, but it's true, too. The French had many ways of denying the Germans the pleasures of their vineyards, and many of the ways were overwhelmingly successful. The amazing story is told in _Wine & War: The French, the Nazis, & the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure_ (Broadway Books) by Don and Petrie Kladstrup, and it is a rousing one, a view of the war never before told.
It is fun to read the stories of how the winemakers fooled the Nazis, making false walls in their cellars and gathering spiders to the wall, so that they might make the wall look old, or putting bad wine into bottles that bore good labels. It must have delighted the French when they could fob bad wine off as good without the Nazis knowing any better. Many of the cloak-and-dagger operations involving wines and winemakers were far from funny, however successful they might have been. The wine cellars, many of which were labyrinthine caves that had been dug centuries before, proved to be excellent places to hide members of the Resistance. Also, those with cellars turned out to be sources of valuable intelligence. A big shipment ordered for "a very hot country" turned out to be among the first indications the Allies had that the North African campaign was beginning.
_Wine & War_ explains how the German "wine fuehrers" played a dangerous double game, helping the winemakers to keep their trade going. It also gives a vintner's view of the history of the collaboration government of Field Marshal Pétain, who was himself a vineyard owner. It explains how much the memories of wine helped inspire French prisoners of war, and how the dangerous furtive manufacture of copper sulfate (used to combat fungus) was carried out underneath the nose of the Germans, who wanted copper for the war effort. It shows how although many of the vineyards at liberation were ruined, some of them could break open their walled-up bottles and sell them to gain funds to get everything started again. This is a fascinating book which will please those interested in the history of the period, as well as those who know something about wines. Ronald Barton, who ran estates in Bordeaux, used to make it a practice to drink one of his good bottles of wine with dinner throughout the war. His private toast was, "Here's one less for the Germans if they win, one less for my heirs if we do." Winemakers throughout France helped in many surprising ways to make it the heirs' loss.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2002
As an American in France, one of my areas of interest is the similarities and differences between our peoples and cultures. And both wine and war certainly set us apart. Everyone realizes wine is a significant part of the French culture, though few understand why. And we Americans are fortunate to have (almost) always been victorious in war. It's very difficult to appreciate each other's points of view on war when the French have been invaded on their home turf so many times. Not us.
So I found this book provided just a bit more insight into both areas. Helped to lift the fog a bit about the French. While you'll learn a little about wine from this book, it doesn't really scratch the surface in that regard, though I doubt it intended to. (If you want to do that, go read the DK guidebook `French Wines: The Essential Guide to the Wines and Wine Growing Regions of France.) But I thought the Kladstrup's did a good job providing some insights into the role wine played - and still does - in the French culture. This is not so much a book about Paris and city life as the rest of France. It's about an agricultural industry's fight to survive during the suicidal years of Europe in the last century.
Several of the other reviewers have done a good job describing the books contents. I'll just end by saying I would have preferred a more in-depth treatment of the French - German relationships. But given the sensitive nature of talking to the few remaining survivors and families about what still is a certainly painful memory for the French, I think Don and Petie Kladstrup did a good job in producing a pleasant read on a somewhat unique topic. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to the glass of French wine I poured myself while sitting down to write this review. Recommended (both the book and my wine!)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2009
Historical accounts, and memoirs of WWII abound ... but this is the first book I've encountered that focused on the events and circumstances regarding the effects of the war on France's premiere vineyards, winemaking families, and the fate of vast cellars of wines (millions of bottles) that lay ripe for plunder ... and the people who took refuge there.
Before now, I'd seen some direct and indirect references to the massive looting of wine documented in various books and movies on the period ... such as the scene in Steven Ambrose's Band of Brothers in which Easy company uncovers a massive cache of looted vintage luxury champagne in Hitler's Berchtesgaden/Eagle's Nest complex - only to discover that most of it tasted inexplicably like swill. This book not only explains WHY, it also explains who stole them and how those bottles came to be there in the first place.
It's a great book - told as a series of interconnected accounts based on interviews conducted by the authors with winemakers and veterans of the underground resistance who lived (and suffered) though it all.
The storytelling is gripping, fast paced, and, at times, takes on some of the amusing qualities of "Hogan's Heroes", as we see desperate (but oh so clever) winemakers and resistance fighters repeatedly put one over on the occupying forces bent on milking them dry and outright looting them blind. We see massive caves of wines, walled up and hidden from the invaders, we see poor vintages re-labeled as great ones and sold/given to oneologically clueless officers tasked with shipping stolen wines back to Germany ... and we see what happened to those who got caught doing so.
Fiction, even at it's best, sometimes can't hold a candle to some of the crazy (and terrible) things that have already happened in real life.
Highly recommended. The mark of a good book is that it totally immerses you, and won't let go ... and it makes you look for ways to find the time to get back into it, when real life tears you away.
P.S. Be sure to look for the Kladstup's other book on Champagne.