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Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure Paperback – April 30, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 271 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Liberty, equality, and fraternity are all well and good, a champion of French culture once remarked. But, he continued, what made France truly superior to its neighbors was the French passion for wine, which "contributed to the French race by giving it wit, gaiety, and good taste, qualities which set it profoundly apart from people who drink a lot of beer."

The commentator may have had a point; after all, write Don and Petie Kladstrup, it was a well-known fact that Adolf Hitler did not like wine. Still, their leader's teetotalism notwithstanding, the Germans showed no distaste for French wine when they invaded France in 1940. Indeed, among the first acts of the occupying army was to seize great stores of wine, sending tens of thousands of barrels to the Third Reich and ordering the conversion of thousands of hectares of vineyards into war production.

Some French vintners, the Kladstrups write in this enjoyable study, went along with orders. Many others, however, including the heads of distinguished houses like Moët et Chandon, engaged in daring and dangerous acts of resistance wherever they could. Some lied about their yields; others built false walls to hide precious vintages; and still others concocted elaborate ruses, such as sprinkling carpet dust into inferior grades of new wine to give it a musty, distinguished flavor. Not every German was fooled, and some partisans of the grape died for their troubles. But some Germans, at considerable risk to themselves, also looked the other way. The Kladstrups fill their pages with memories of the wine war from both sides of the struggle, stories sometimes somber, sometimes amusing, that commemorate those "whose love of the grape and devotion to a way of life helped them survive and triumph over one of the darkest and most difficult chapters in French history." --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Husband-and-wife journalists and contributors to Wine Spectator, the Kladstrups recount the dangerous and daring exploits of those who fought to keep France's greatest treasure out of the hands of the Nazis. Whether they were fobbing off inferior wines on the Germans, hiding precious vintages behind hastily constructed walls, sabotaging shipments being sent out of France, or even sneaking people out of the country in wine barrels, the French proved to be remarkably versatile when it came to protecting their beloved wine. The authors craft a compelling read that shifts back and forth between individual tales of bravery, including those of five prominent wine-making families, and the bigger story of how World War II affected the French wine industry. This history should prove popular with readers who appreciated other books detailing the Nazis' looting of treasures, such as Tom Bower's Nazi Gold (LJ 5/15/97) and Hector Feliciano's The Lost Museum (LJ 8/97). Recommended for public and academic libraries. John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767904486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767904483
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (271 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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