Welcome to another installment of binNotes’ Terroirist Tuesday.
Last Week’s Discussion: Part 1 of 3: Bordeaux’s Classification System.
This week: Part 2 of 3: Bordeaux. A wine region steeped in history. A history steeped in war. Lots of war. But first:
Bordeaux: Some Facts
- Location: SW Quadrant of France
- Name ‘Bordeaux’ derives from the French au bord de l’eau meaning”along the waters”
- “Along the waters” refers to the Gironde estuary and tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers
- #1 FrenchWine Producing Region – by volume
- 297,000 acres of vineyards
- 1/4 of all French AOC wine
- Greatest % of Wine Estates in France
- 2 regional UNESCOHeritage sites:
- Largest man-made forest in Europe: Les Landes (2.5M acres)
- Biennial Vinexpo Host – World’s Largest Wine Fair
Bordeaux: Some History
So, about those wars. First the Romans came, saw, conquered, and stayed in Bordeaux. (Pliny mentions Bordeaux’s vines in 77 BC.) Until Rome fell. And general dissolution prevailed throughout the land until the Middle Ages.
Of Blood and Britain
In 1152, Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. Henry eventually ruled not only Aquitaine, Gascony, and a large chunk of Western France, but also England – a Catholic nation at the time. And life was good. England needed wine for Mass, and claret for Court. Bordeaux blossomed into Britain’s vineyard. Until Henry’s heir, Edward III, refused to pay homage to the French king. And then there was war. Lots of war. About 100 years worth.
Of Wine and Water
In 1453, France won the Battle of Castillon and expelled the British. Britain’s loss proved the Dutch empire’s gain. The Dutch drained the Médoc peninsula, planted vineyards, and exported wine. Lots of wine. Mostly white wine. And it was good. Very good. Then New World colonies wanted to buy Bordeaux wines. And it got better. I’m-stinking-rich-look-at-my-freakin’-opulent-estate-better.
Of Revolution, Pests and War
Until it got bad. In 1789, a little thing called the French Revolution occurred. Havoc ensued. But not so much in Bordeaux. Because, unlike the rest of France, most Bordelais vineyards were privately held. However, the port, well – let’s just say a little thing called protectionism, instigated by Napoleon, curtailed Bordeaux’s thriving port industry just a bit.
Ok, so business didn’t really pick up again until the 1800’s, thanks to railroads and Napoleon III’s pro-merchant attitude. Just in time for the 3-pronged plagues of French vineyards in the late 1800’s: powdery mildew, phylloxera, and downy mildew. And things were bad. Very bad. Job-like, wrathful-God bad.
Until humans discovered a cure for the pests. But not for war. Two more wars: World War I and World War II. Thankfully, the Bordelais are a resilient lot. They survived the wars, and a depression, and a deep freeze in 1956, which killed a quarter of their vines.
Today, Bordeaux not just survives, but thrives. Just like the vines. Quite a history. Whew…time for some Château Margaux right about now…Santé!
Next week: Part 3 of 3: The Sub-Regions of Bordeaux – Left Bank/Right Bank/Entre-Deux-Mers
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