JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

Wine and the Reformation of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

     As is known by modern scholars, the naïve and feisty Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) was hardly the first person to condemn the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church; other such prominent individuals as John Wycliffe (1324-1384) and Jan Hus (c. 1372-1415) had been reproving certain activities of the Church long before Luther had even been born. Nonetheless, it was Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517 – and really not the work of his ‘predecessors’ – that came to symbolize the beginning(s) of the Protestant Reformation and, by extension, a new period of (Western) European history.

     Without question, the advent of the reform movements from the time of Luther onward and the physical (religious-based) conflicts that accompanied it irrevocably altered the social norms and economic framework of Europe. This was acutely demonstrated in how ‘the institution of wine’ – that is, its consumption, trade, and cultivation, as well as peoples’ attitudes towards it – came to be significantly affected.

     In a multitude of respects, the Protestant Reformation and coinciding wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had a fundamental impact on wine, from prevailing attitudes concerning its role in religious ceremony and its function in more ‘secular’ contexts to its overall economic status and actual cultivation.

     With regard to religious matters, Protestant reformers came to differ greatly from Roman Catholics, in that the former stressed the importance of the laity receiving both the bread and the wine at communion. These two increasingly-divided groups also came to seriously disagree over the exact meaning of the Eucharist and what it represented.

     Far more important, however, was the fact that, as propounded in detail by some of the most prominent reformers of the period and explained by a good number of modern historians, many Protestants came to make a radical departure from the traditional Catholic stance on excessive consumption; while ‘pious’ Christians have always stressed the value of moderation, it was not until the sixteenth century – specifically under the Protestants – that the notion of total abstinence started to become a pervasive movement.

     From analyzing various trends illustrated by modern scholars, it also seems that, as a result of the many lengthy and violent wars which occurred throughout many parts of (Western) Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in large part from the Protestant reform movements, wine production suffered considerable setbacks, from the destruction of vineyards to the deaths of many skilled workers. While there was, interestingly, a significant increase in the demand for wine during this period, the wars of the Reformation made its growth as an industry extremely difficult. Such conflicts as the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648 in central Europe and the Wars of Religion in France during the latter half of the sixteenth century not only dealt a horrific blow to European wine production, it also severely hampered trade and caused prices to increase.

     On the issue of actual wine cultivation, the Protestant Reformation – more specifically, the religious wars brought about by the reform movements – stimulated some of the greatest turning points of viticultural practices in European history. With the destruction of so many vineyards and deaths of so many skilled workers, many vintners had to completely replant their vines and improve techniques. Though there were plenty of obstacles to overcome, as discussed by modern wine historians, the developments of this period were extensive and arguably culminated in a new era of winemaking.

     Indeed, as shall be demonstrated in this paper, the Protestant Reformation and corresponding wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had a fundamental impact on the institution of wine. However, before delving into any actual discussion, it is important to realize that the study of wine – specifically, its history prior to the eighteenth century – is by no means a simple task; quite the contrary, it is an exceptionally complicated pursuit. For one thing, (reliable) primary sources pertaining to actual cultivation methods and trading patterns – especially during the tumultuous period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – are understandably rare. At the same time, however, there does exist a considerable amount of personal tracts that provide valuable details on the radical new attitudes many Protestants took toward wine in religious ceremony and social consumption. Still, becauseoweveeHow it is difficult to say whether or not such treatises served to effect any direct changes on viticulture or the wine trade, it is largely by way of examining the various physical religious conflicts (such as the Thirty Years’ War) that it can be seen how the Protestant Reformation had a vital impact on wine.

     Historically speaking, it was also only until around the twentieth century that ‘general wine history’ – let alone the history of wine during the Protestant Reformation – became a discernable field of study, when such authors as Roderick Phillips, Jancis Robinson, and Hugh Johnson published detailed compositions on this area of subject. Hence, much of the secondary resources produced on ‘wine history’ are relatively recent publications. In any event, however, this paper will perform no less than adequate in what it has set out to demonstrate – that the Protestant Reformation and corresponding wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had a fundamental impact on the institution of wine.

     Historically, the Protestant Reformation saw the emergence of an assortment of new ideas and doctrines on the role of wine in religious ceremony. Unlike in Catholic communion, under which parishioners received only the bread, Protestants insisted that the laity ought to communicate in both kinds – that is, by receiving the bread and the wine.[1] The Reformation also witnessed the materialization of new and ostensibly irreconcilable views about the Eucharist, most notably concerning its exact meaning as a ‘memorial’ of Christ’s death and as a sacrifice, as well as about the sense in which the wine (and the bread) become the blood and body of Christ.[2] For its part, the Church maintained that because Christ is fully present under both ‘species,’ it had only been a matter of ecclesiastical discipline and practical convenience that the priest consumed the wine on behalf of his parishioners.[3] However, all the best known reformers of the Reformation did not accept this as an explanation, and vehemently campaigned for the restoration of communion wine for the laity, wishing to reduce the distinction between the celebrant and the congregation.[4]

     To his credit, Luther recognized that the question of wine at communion and the debate over the exact significance of the Eucharist were contentious issues. Thus, though he did stress the importance of communion, ruling that some – and preferably all – of his congregation should receive both the bread and the wine at each celebration, he also understood that not everyone might be comfortable breaking with such an old tradition; he thus directed that those who wished to communicate in both kinds should inform the pastor before the service.[5] On the matter of the Eucharist, however, Luther took a somewhat more staunch approach; in order to counter what he believed to be the erroneous doctrines of Eucharistic sacrifice, merit, and transubstantiation, he eliminated the offertory, directing that the bread and wine be prepared during the singing of the Creed so as to eliminate any hint that it (the offertory) was some sort-of prelude to a propitiatory sacrifice.[6]

     While admittedly simplistic as a postulation, it is highly probable that these seemingly radical modes of thought and coinciding new models of practice, such as those of Luther, which emerged out of this period had an important effect on peoples’ attitude toward the institution of wine – more specifically, its assorted functions in religious ceremony, which, prior to the Reformation, had arguably not undergone any real significant changes for (at least) several centuries. Whatever the case may be, it is indeed certain that the Protestant Reformation did, in fact, have a significant effect on the role of wine in religious functions.

     Taking this into account, it is equally – if not a great deal more – important to recognize that the Reformation also saw a far-reaching departure from the traditional Catholic stance on the issue of excessive consumption – specifically, for non-religious purposes. As is commonly known, from the beginning of Christianity, there have always been advocates of moderate drinking and even the occasional proponent of total abstinence. After all, in the Gospel, Jesus Christ ‘Himself’ was very critical of those who drank excessively: “And take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness and cares of this life and so that day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34).[7] In another instance, the Gospel of Matthew warns of the punishment to be meted out to evil stewards who abuse their position and live a riotous and drunken life: “…. and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:45-51).[8] Clearly, the Son of God did not approve of those who drank to excessiveness, and this was undoubtedly recognized by noted ecclesiastical scholars and devout figures throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages.

     Nevertheless, it was really not until the beginning of the Reformation of the sixteenth century – under Protestant reformers – that total abstinence became a general movement in Western Europe.[9] As explained by modern wine scholar Gregory Austen, while Protestant reformers did not actually attack drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol any more than that of the Church fathers or their Catholic contemporaries, the Reformation, nonetheless, did see a less tolerant attitude toward drunkenness and popular drinking practices by their (Protestants) “reemphasizing fundamental Christian doctrine, by seeking to end the close association between the secular and the sacred within the Church and by relying more on civil authority to institute and enforce moral behavior.”[10] Though confessedly complex as an explanation, it appears that, in this manner, Protestant reformers were able to take their ideals of moderate drinking and total abstinence to new levels of prominence.

     Over the centuries, famously stringent Protestant sects have earned the not unfounded reputation for being puritanical in matters of consumption. At least in the beginning, however, their main concern was not actually to prohibit drinking altogether, but merely to prevent excessive consumption.[11] Like the early Church Fathers, Protestant leaders, such as Luther, sanctioned moderate drinking of wine (and beer), viewing alcohol as one of God’s creations intended for the benefit and enjoyment of humankind.[12]

     In actuality, though, it was such individuals as Luther and others like him who fervently condemned alcohol as being among the most ultimate of vices to be found throughout the societies of Europe. When preaching to his (albeit) principally-German supporters, Luther frequently denounced the prevalent habit of drinking, convinced that the vice of drunkenness was increasing around him at a most alarming rate; in one of his postils, he went so far as to exclaim: “Our poor German land is chastised and plagued with this devil of drink, and altogether drowned in this vice, so that life and limb, possessions and honor, are shamefully lost while people lead the life of swine, so that, had we to depict Germany, we should have to show it under the image of a sow.”[13] Then, in an actual reference to wine, Luther stated, “Every country must have its own devil; our German devil is a good skin of wine and surely his name is Swill.”[14]

     The notion that the excessive consumption of alcohol – including wine – was a ‘devilish’ problem was echoed in a similar fashion in many other treatises written by Protestant figures, which, along with the opinions of various individuals, undoubtedly was exposed to quite a wide audience. For his part, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), in his attack on the abuse of wine, deplored not only the damage to the body and spirit that excessive drinking caused, but also the wasteful squandering of the wine itself.[15] In a 1525 tract, the famous reformer of Zurich lamented, “They [the many abusers of alcohol] guzzle as if wine cannot be poured out and lost in any other way than through the human body.”[16]

     During this period, Protestants – and even along with some Catholics – also came to share a common belief in the existence of devils, spirits, and demons as the creators of disorder and impetus for sin, and literary allegory often came to personify specific vices or sins in the form of Lasterteufel (‘Vice Demons’), such as the ‘boozing devil.’[17] The first of these (Protestant) ‘devil-books’ was Matthaeus Friderich’s Widerden Sauffteuffel (“Against the Boozing Devil”), which first appeared in print in 1522.[18]

     Indeed, Protestant writings against the ‘evil’ abuse of alcohol were very extensive, eventually culminating in a movement that came to promulgate its total abstinence. This being understood, it should also be remembered that these reformers’ concerns were not entirely without foundation, as the excessive consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages prior, during, and beyond the Reformation were, put simply, quite deplorable, from its horrific misuse among monastic orders and higher clerics to the extent at which its varying level of abuse had even become identifiable on a culture-to-culture basis.

     Brought up in the Jewish faith, Christ ‘Himself’ had been taught to use wine sparingly and often; in other words, he was instructed to drink moderately, but not infrequently.[19] As devout scholars of Scripture, members of monastic orders – and especially their spiritual leaders – were undoubtedly fully aware of their Lord’s drinking practices. And, yet, despite this and the previously-mentioned warnings against drunkenness in the Gospel, many monks and their higher-positioned brethren still engaged heavily in the practice of consuming gluttonous amounts of wine. In 1537, for example, Dan Richard Beely of Pershore noted that, in his monastery, “Monkes drynk in bowll after collacy on tell ten or xii of the clock, and cum to mattens as dronk as myss [mice].”[20] A year later, in June 1538, Dr. Layton, the most infamous of the commissioners charged with finding evidence for the Dissolution in England, found that Dan John Cordrey, abbot of Bisham in Berkshire, routinely sat in his chamber over a mixture of white wine, sugar, borage leaves, and sack, “whereof he doth sip mightly until midnight.”[21] The abuse of wine among various members of ecclesiastical orders – such as those in England, among many other regions – was undeniably problematic.

     By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it appears that overall consumption patterns of wine and other forms of alcohol by different peoples or cultures had become more easily identifiable, as excessive consumption (as a prominent example) came to be documented more thoroughly in the course of peoples’ travels. It was realized, for instance, that northerners – Germans, in particular – had their own special palates and tastes; southerners, presumably from France and Italy, looked jeeringly upon these drinkers, who, in their opinion, did not know how to consume alcohol, customarily emptying their glasses in a single gulp.[22] In his Italian travel logs, Jean d’Auton, once chronicler of French King Louis XII (r. 1498-1515), noticed how German soldiers drank trinken precisely in this manner, such as when they pillaged the castle of Forli and again when they were staving off barrels and rapidly becoming dead drunk during the terrible sacking of Rome in 1527.[23] Then, when Félix Platter from Basle stayed in Montpellier in 1556, he acknowledged that “all the boozers” in the town were – though perhaps not to his astonishment – German; he reports they were to be found snoring under barrels.[24]

     From such incidents, it does seem apparent that Protestant reformers’ concerns about alcoholism, particularly among Germans, were not, in the least bit, devoid of accuracy. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that not all drinking was conducted for the mere sake of achieving outright insobriety. In Tudor England, for example, wine was the alcoholic beverage of choice for a gentleman, as it was a sign that he could afford the finer things in life; it was, in general, the drink for a nobleman to be seen enjoying and offering his guests.[25] In another setting, according to German cultural tradition, debate and compromise were more fruitful when conducted under the congenial influence of wine, and no contract was considered binding unless it was sealed with a drink.[26] The same was to be found on the higher stratums of German society, as political negotiations and contracts were almost always held at the drinking table, and (interestingly) the cost of wine that members of the government drank while performing their duties often appeared in financial records as an official bureaucratic expense.[27]

     Still, the upper classes of England and Germany were far from being innocent of indulging in grossly excessive consumption, so much so that, in May 1450, Luther felt compelled to express his opinion of the extent to which drinking might be allowable in certain circles: “I said to the nobles: ‘You ought to employ yourselves after dinner in the Palaestra or in some other exercise, after which you might have a good drink, for drinking is permissible, but drunkenness never (ebrietas est ferenda, sed ebriositas minime).”[28]

     On the whole, though, aside from significantly affecting the role of wine in religious functions, the Reformation, in a combined result of admittedly peculiar circumstances described by Austin, saw the beginnings of Protestant reformers – despite what seems to be initial views on toleration – ardently condemning excessive consumption of wine and other forms of alcohol) as among the most wicked and prevalent of vices to be found throughout Europe. As the centuries progressed, their attitudes and efforts became so pronounced, that, by the nineteenth century, anti-drinking movements in some countries – both in Europe and North America – were near having the consumption of alcohol forbidden in their respective societies.

     Having dealt with attitudinal changes, a studious examination of the manners in which wine production and distribution itself was affected by the Reformation is now in order. From drawing on a variety of patterns that have been identified by modern wine researchers, it appears that, as a result of the many lengthy and violent wars which occurred throughout Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries largely as a result of the Protestant reform movements, the cultivation of wine and its distribution came to suffer an assortment of serious difficulties.

     For all intents and purposes, the wine industry in ‘Germany’ suffered horrifically from the Thirty Years’ War, a lengthy and bloody conflict which devastated a sizeable portion of central Europe.[29] Few viticultural areas were left unscathed, although, in general, the districts adjoining the Rhine were worse hit than Franken, while the Taubergrund bordering Baden may have even escaped damage altogether.[30] In Alsace, the region with much of the greatest production, was occupied and laid to waste by the Swedish army.[31] Even worse still, however, was the fact that, because the vast majority of vineyards were typically grown right up against the walls of cities, which were routinely ripped out by invading armies so as to put pressure on towns under siege, the overall loss of vines was particularly acute.[32] Moreover, not only were vineyards drastically affected, but equipment, including presses, barrels, and barges were destroyed, and many skilled workers were dispersed or lost their lives.[33] By the end of the Thirty Years’ War, German cities lost one-third of their population, while rural areas lost a catastrophic two-fifths.[34]

     Leaving aside (for the moment) the fact that such horrific losses most certainly resulted in significant changes in actual viticultural methods, it is, indeed, apparent that the Thirty Years’ War terribly affected wine regions throughout ‘Germany,’ as is aptly illustrated in a fictional novel detailing the turmoil of the period. Written by Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen (1625-1676), the short work, entitled The Adventures of a Simpleton, tells the story of a young man named Simplicius who finds himself involved in the horrid affairs of military savagery and court intrigue. In good favor with the governor at one point, Simplicius is privileged to drink the finest German wine, commenting on its rarity on account of the war: “It was easy to see that I no longer mortified my flesh with water, acorns, beechnuts, roots, and herbs, but throve on good morsels and Rhenish wine or strong Hanau beer. In those miserable times this could be accounted a great blessing of God, for all Germany was ravaged by war, famine, and pestilence, and the town of Hanau itself besieged by the enemy―none of which concerned me in the least.”[35] While coming from a fictional character, such a statement – fabricated from the quill of a contemporary – nonetheless serves to corroborate modern scholars’ contention that vineyards – especially in German regions – were terribly affected by the Thirty Years’ War.

     Though confessedly to a lesser extent than in ‘Germany,’ the Religious Wars of the mid-to-late sixteenth century also posed serious problems to wine production in France. From the 1560s onwards, the expansion of arable land area in France was drastically affected by the religious mayhem, and, in some places, the size of vineyards detracted heavily.[36] For example, in the cultivated areas of Lattes (near Montpellier), land under vineyard decreased from sixty-one hectares in 1547 to forty-two hectares in 1607.[37]

     Now, rather than going on to discuss evermore long-windedly the obvious damage to vineyards that took place, an intriguing indication of the viticultural instability that occurred can be found from analyzing the wine-purchasing patterns of the prominent royal house of Foix-Navarre-Albret. During these times of upheaval, this particular house preferred to buy their wines directly from local wine merchants and noble vignerons at the established market rate (suivant le taxe) in each locality where they set up court.[38] Records also indicate that the Albrets continued to draw on the same pool of merchants and nobles to provide drink for their household; for instance, when Navarre sojourned at the court of Paris in 1576, he employed the services of wine experts Henri Meslée and Jean de la Pelonnier, styled “merchants of Paris who followed the court.”[39]

     As would be expected of noblemen and royal figures, it was undoubtedly a matter of inward and outward honor to be renowned for possessing the finest wines in known existence. Yet, how could such preeminent figures as the Albrets obtain such wines from local merchants or even noble vignerons, dealers whose inventories were typically limited to regional, maybe semi-distinguished vineyards? Although there are, no doubt, many plausible explanations, among the most rational can be included the highly likely scenario that the turmoil brought on by the Wars of Religion – in which Frenchmen fought their own countrymen – resulted in a very limited capability for fine wines to be produced; thus, such a distinguished family as the Albrets had little alternative but to acquire whatever was available from local merchants or noble vignerons.

     From this one example, it appears that, at the very least, the production of fine wine in France was quite seriously affected during the Religious Wars. At the same time, however, this one instance also serves to indicate that not all damage to winemaking during the religious-based wars of France – along with those in ‘Germany’ – had been inflicted by invading armies; in actuality, a great deal of the harm done to vineyards and wine ‘capital’ was committed at the hands of the peasants themselves. A primary reason for this was because, as is famously known, monastic institutions – colossal producers of wine – were among of principle targets of Protestant reformers; it was thus inevitable that their wine production would suffer heavily.[40] Numerous times during the 1560s, German Protestants raided the legendary (monastic-owned) cellaring caves of Schlöss Johannisberg; in France, the Huguenots, in one instance, orgiastically sacked the wine-producing abbey at Pontigny in Chablis while wearing monks’ robes.[41]

     As a point of good fortune, however, monastic vineyards and properties that did not come under the attack of Protestants – but were, instead, ‘peacefully’ transferred to the ownership of secular authorities – seem to have fared moderately well. In general, the wholesale confiscation of monastic lands that took place when Catholic religious orders were dissolved by Protestant rulers, such as in England and Switzerland, had relatively little effect on actual operations of wine production.[42] The lush-monk-owned vineyards at Pershore, for instance, though passing into lay hands during the Dissolution, continued to be cultivated in the mid-1540s, a time when wine production in England was on a steep decline.[43] Other old vineyards previously owned by monks were also maintained, although many seem to have been given up by about 1550.[44] Around this point on, monastic winemaking continued to decrease throughout Europe. For the sake of posterity, though, the actual names of monasteries nevertheless remain to be found on many ‘Old World’ wine labels to the present day, reminding modern wine enthusiasts of a time when the Church held a virtual monopoly over the institution of winemaking.[45]

     Despite this little ‘tear-jerking’ point of fact, it nonetheless remains, in the manners described, that overall winemaking in central Europe suffered terribly as a result of the religious-based wars brought on by the Protestant Reformation. At the same time, however, there was, fascinatingly, a significant increase in the overall demand for wine during this period. By the sixteenth century, wine drinking had become much more common among the general populaces of Europe.[46] From 1600 through 1750, there was a tremendous increase in the demand for wine (along with beer, brandies, and liqueurs).[47] It was almost as if northern Europeans (in particular) were coming to assume a mentality similar to that of people living in southern regions, where wine was considered so crucial a component to one’s diet that a meal without it was referred to as a prandium caninum, or “dog’s dinner,” because only dogs were supposed to have a dislike for wine.[48] Even the Protestants may have augmented the demand for wine (albeit on a questionable scale); although they differed from Catholics on the exact meaning of the Eucharist, the latter did stress the importance of taking communion frequently and not merely once a year as the former commonly practiced.[49] Could this, in itself, have promoted a demand?

     With such increased demands for wine during this period, the need for available markets became expectedly greater than ever before. For its part, the numerous cities in the southern German regions, along with those in the Rhineland, were able to provide the necessary markets to support the increased production of wine.[50] In France, where wine (excluding grain) was the most important crop, producers also proved capable of responding positively to the growth of their product as an industry.[51]

     On the whole, however, as the consumption of wine (among other types of alcohol) increased, there also arose an assortment of trade-related problems, most of which were acutely linked to the turmoil caused by the (aforementioned) religious wars that stemmed from the Reformation. Aside from dealing a horrific blow to European wine production, these conflicts came to severely impede systems of trade and cause overall prices to increase.

     As the demand for wine and (by extension) the requirement of available markets continued to increase during the Reformation and onward, the need for having stable systems of distribution became ever more important. Throughout the year, busy fleets of barges transported the many grades of wine produced in Burgundy, via the Yonne and the Seine Rivers to other regions of France; wines produced outside Paris also made their journey along the rivers, as far as Rouen and beyond.[52] Even the ‘roads’ – in whatever capacity they existed – were also very much crucial. At the end of each grape harvest, convoys of great German carts (referred to in Italian documents as carretoni) crossed the Alps to load up in the south with the new and still ‘unsettled’ wines grown in the regions of Verona, Brescia, and Istria.[53]

     As a result of the upheaval caused by the religious wars, transportation routes throughout Europe were gravely hindered. For wine, the situation was made all the worse because, in order to supply the rising urban populations of Europe, it became increasingly necessary for producers to grow types of vines which yielded grapes in the largest quantities; wines created from such varietals were generally coarse, and easily turned to sour vinegar if not consumed quickly.[54] In 1539, for example, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1558) was advised not to buy large quantities of wine for the navy because it was considered far too likely to turn into vinegar before safely reaching its destination.[55]

     Other hindrances to trading systems of wine (and other forms of alcohol), whose origins derived from the religious-based conflicts also included the restriction of markets, the establishment of tariffs and treaties, and the promulgation of edicts. As a (yet-to-be-stated) example, the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) of the Netherlands against Spanish domination – a conflict debatably rooted in a sort-of religious awakening on the part of the former – heavily disrupted wine trading patterns in northern Europe.[56] For many years around the time of the Reformation, Antwerp itself had been an important centre for the transport of wine (among other items) heading to such northern countries as England; by 1551, however, there were problems, among the most prevalent being the increasing embitterment toward the ‘religious question,’ which began to endanger the position of Protestants residing in the city.[57] It was only during the second half of the seventeenth century, when the strife had finally abated, that old routes of trade and markets were reopened.[58]

     Besides market restrictions, the distribution of wine was further inhibited from the tariffs imposed on wine by rulers to raise money for their efforts in the religious wars. For example, in 1620, King James I of England (r. 1623-1625) imposed an (additional) duty of 40s on every tun of wine imported into his kingdom as a means of financing support for his son-in-law, the Elector Palatine, during the Thirty Years’ War.[59] Although eventually rescinded in 1634, such duties as this one caused the price of certain wines to increase dramatically. Towards 1630, wine from Bordeaux – though admissibly increasingly becoming known as a luxury item – came to sell at a ridiculous price of seven times the cost of wheat; these proportions only turned out to be more pronounced as the seventeenth century went on.[60]

     Then, though occurring several decades after the ‘major’ religious conflicts had been concluded, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) also had some interesting – and serious – implications for wine distribution in central Europe. For one thing, the emigration of some 59,000 Protestant families to countries outside France, especially to the Low Countries, brought a considerable part of the French wine trade into new, international channels.[61] As a positive effect, this provided the winemakers and merchants of France with a much larger market base from which they could draw on to sell their products. As a negative effect, however, while undoubtedly beneficial to the exportation of French wines in the long run, the massive emigrations caused by the Revocation must have – in the short term – seriously impacted on the wine trade throughout France and beyond.

     In such manners as these, it is very much apparent that the distribution of wine – along with its production – was significantly affected throughout Europe by the many lengthy and violent religious-based wars brought on by the Reformation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To their credit, modern scholars, in their analyses of various patterns and examinations of specific instances meriting especial consideration, have helped to demonstrate how winemaking suffered considerable setbacks, from the destruction of thousands of hectares of vineyards to the deaths of thousands of skilled workers. They have also recognized that a significant increase in the demand for wine did, in fact, occur during this period, yet, at the same time, noting how the religious wars of the Reformation made any actual growth of wine as an industry extremely difficult. Clearly, such conflicts as the Thirty Years’ War in ‘Germany’ and the Wars of Religion in France not only dealt a horrific blow to European wine production, it severely interfered with trade and caused prices to increase.

     But how was the actual cultivation of vineyards itself affected by this seemingly-unprecedented level of turmoil? Was there any actual improvement (or ‘update’) of viticultural methods as a result of such widespread destruction of vineyards, workers, and equipment? And, if so, were any developments made in the cultivation of varietals? Moreover, did such developments have any impact on the overall quality of the ‘end product’? Such are the questions that now need addressing in order for a proper examination of viticulture during the Reformation to be undertaken.

     As is grudgingly accepted among winegrowers, vines are remarkably delicate plants, threatened by the elements of nature at all times of the year, and particularly susceptible in the northern regions, such as those of France; in this area, spring, in one treatise, was acknowledged as “the most dangerous season,” when frosts could burn new shoots as badly as fire.[62] The high level of vulnerability of their vines made many winegrowers in France (as well as possibly in ‘Germany’) deeply religious and known for their defense of traditional Catholicism during the religious-based wars.[63] At the same time, though, it also – in all probability – ought to have made vinegrowers very much aware of the importance of adapting their viticultural techniques in the face of whatever adversities with which they had to contend. And, indeed, as a result of the tumult caused by the religious wars brought on by the Reformation, such is precisely what seems to have occurred in many places.

     While perhaps not obvious at first glance, one of the major changes in viticulture that resulted (indirectly) from the religious wars was the growth of ‘regional specialization’ – that is, the making of wines in regions that best suited their production and, in coincidence, the waning and eventual elimination of vinegrowing in areas that did not. For example, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, vinegrowing continued to decline in such regions as Normandy and Picardy, except in certain districts of the Île de France, Poitou, the Charente, and the Basse-Loire.[64] However, in regions near the interior, such as in the valleys of the Adour, the Gave, Armagnac, the Garonne towards Bordeaux, and the Dordogne towards Bergerac, vines came to be widely grown (early) in the same period.[65] On the whole, though, regional specialization in France spread rather slowly; even by the seventeenth century, there were only eleven places in Burgundy where wine production engaged the whole population.[66]

     Nonetheless, from careful examination of these trends, a fundamentally important conclusion can be logically drawn. Consider this: for hundreds of years, despite having to contend with numerous horrific wars, vines had been grown in Normandy and Picardy; and yet, it was only by the time of the Reformation that wine production in these regions fell into a decline from which it would never recover. At the same time, vinegrowing in other regions of France during this period – though also having suffered tremendously from past instances of horrendous violence in previous centuries – continued to become more pronounced both during and after the religious wars caused by the Reformation. It was during this period, for instance, that the southwestern sweet wine called Monbazillac (or Marque Hollandaise) came to be widely recognized.[67] Why were vintners in the aforementioned northern regions unable to recover from the chaos of the Reformation as they had countless times in the past, while more southerly growers were not only eventually able to recover, but increasingly prosper?

     As a plausible explanation, it is very much probable that, among other things, viticulture itself may have reached a sort-of impasse by the time of the Reformation. While it is arguable that the religious wars brought on by the Reformation horrifically affected most of the winegrowing regions throughout France, it may have been that such northerly regions as Normandy and Picardy – already at a disadvantage because of their respective climatic localities – were simply unable to make the sufficient viticultural advances necessary to compete with those made by their more southerly counterparts as a result of the destruction of vineyards and equipment cased by the religious-based wars. Whatever the case may be, it is, nonetheless, clear that regional specialization was a principle result of the confrontations brought on by the Protestant Reformation.

     On a more specific level, the actual improvements made in viticultural techniques – advances which could only really occur from enhanced regional specialization – were remarkably impressive. During the Reformation, the methods employed in making wine were noticeably enhanced.[68] This had much to do with the fact that many vintners came to replace their old, ‘war-torn’ vines with ones more suited to their geographic position and climate. It has been postulated, for example, that the turmoil of the Thirty Years’ War led to the replacement of vines throughout the Rhine with ones better capable of competing in the wider European market, which, at this time, was dominated to an increasing extent by the wines of Jerez and Oporto.[69] Competition, historically, has always been an understandably important factor to the development of better vines.

     It was also during the Reformation – more specifically, in the sixteenth century – that, in accordance with the spirit of the Renaissance, there was a rediscovery and printing of classical texts on horticulture and agriculture.[70] While it is impossible to measure, in exact terms, how widely these texts actually came to influence European viticulture, it is interesting to note that, by the seventeenth century, the three most basic fundamentals of vineyard operations – pruning, binding, and weeding – had been greatly elaborated to include as many as ten stages, with particular attention awarded to trellis systems and canopy management.[71]

     Despite these advancements, however, it should be remembered that wine still continued to remain a very problematic substance to haul and store, chiefly by the fact that it had to be kept and transported in wooden barrels.[72] Regrettably, judging from a lack of information provided by modern scholars, it does not appear that any significant improvements were made during the Reformation on this particular matter of concern.

     In terms of varietal cultivation, on the other hand, there does seem to have been several particularly noteworthy advancements, especially in the winegrowing regions of ‘Germany.’ According to Italian viticultural writer Andrea Bacci at the end of the sixteenth century, red wine was to be found throughout the German wine regions, noting red varietals in the Palatinate (in the Speyergau and Wormsgau), as well as reporting that the mild red wines of Marlenheim, Ottrott, and St. Hippolyte in Alsace enjoyed a high reputation.[73] More importantly, as noted by German botanist and priest Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554) in his Kräuterbuch (“Herbal”) in 1551, the great Riesling vine had been planted throughout the Rhine, Mosel, Alsace for many centuries; he also reports that Muscat vines were also widely grown, and that, in Alsace, the Traminer varietal was joined by several varieties of Klevner, corresponding to Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois – these plantings had helped to reduce the reliance on the poor-quality Elbling varietal.[74]

     For all intents and purposes, however, it had arguably been with the Riesling varietal that some of the greatest strides in ‘varietal perfecting’ (at least in ‘Germany’) during the time of the Reformation were probably realized. Although its exact origin is unclear and its early history quite ambiguous, the quality of this grape was clearly never in doubt by growers, especially considering how widely it was claimed by Bock to have been cultivated throughout the most important German wine regions in the sixteenth century.[75] For one thing, it (Riesling) is hardy against all types of weather, ripens late (considerably late for the traditionally early harvests of northerly regions), and achieves – in the ripening process – a degree of exceptional sweetness, yet still maintaining a high degree of (exceptionally flavorsome) acidity – both the sweetness and the acidity preserve it.[76]

     Now, with the destruction of so many vineyards in the best-growing areas of ‘Germany’ as a result of the Thirty Years’ War, vintners were given a unique opportunity to correct one of the most common errors committed by their predecessors – the planting of specific varietals in unsuitable locations. Though admittedly open to personal opinion, the Riesling varietal – on account of its abovementioned traits and historically-acknowledged proliferation during this period – was arguably looked upon as the ultimate varietal to perfect from the destruction of most existing vineyards. As a sign of confirmation that the Riesling varietal was actually substantially improved, if one were to consult one of the many twentieth-century ‘wine rating booklets,’ one would find that a small-but-fair number of present-day fine (Riesling-specialized) wine houses in ‘Germany’ can trace their origins to around this period, including Weingut Paul Anheuser (1627), Weingut Hans Wirsching (1630), and Weingut des Hauses Württemberg Hofkammerkellerei (1677), as well as notice that many other important German wine houses were also founded in the early decades of the eighteenth century.

     Hence, varietal cultivation does seem to have (very much possibly) improved a great deal as a result of the turmoil caused by the Protestant Reformation. This being said, it still begs the question of whether or not the overall quality of the ‘finished product’ itself had been noticeably bettered from these advancements. Before addressing this issue, it is important to understand that wine in the sixteenth (and, no doubt, in the seventeenth) century differed greatly from that which is generally produced in modern times, specifically by the fact that the grape varietals used in the actual winemaking process were almost never strictly controlled.[77] However, because different varieties would ripen at different times, there was, fortunately, less of a risk of the entire crop being ruined by a single instance of adverse weather; this was considered to be quite a sensible arrangement, as the riper grapes added sugar to the wine, while others added (at least hopefully) acidity – on the whole, though, this procedure made the ‘end result’ rather unpredictable.[78] This being understood, did the (probable) viticultural advancements made as a result of the havoc brought on by the Protestant Reformation translate into higher-quality wine being produced?

     For the most part, modern scholars would seem to agree that the overall quality of wine produced during the Reformation was finer than that of centuries past.[79] At the same time, though, they also acknowledge that a great deal of poor-quality wine continued to be produced throughout Europe.[80] For one thing, wine (like corn, for instance) continued to be largely produced locally and consumed on the spot, even in regions of poor soil and climate, where a season good enough to yield a vintage produced “at best, miserable rot-gut.”[81] Thus, it is highly likely that there was little incentive for most producers – at the local level – to make wine either stable enough to survive long-distance transport or capable of aging more than a year.

     This being said, there was arguably an even greater reason for why such large quantities of poor-quality wine continued to be made during the Reformation. According to the eminent modern wine historian and commentator Hugh Johnson, “When a massive replanting of vineyards is needed, history repeatedly shows us that the earliest and most prolific vines are planted first, however poor their produce.”[82] Moreover, it is only when vintners have recouped enough of their losses that they can start to concern themselves with upping the quality of their wines.[83] For many vintners in ‘Germany’ after the Thirty Years’ War, such had probably been the most common case, in that the majority of wines they produced in the years immediately following the war – and most likely for some time afterward – were, at best, of questionable quality.

     At the same time, though, it must also be kept in mind that (as previously discussed) the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also saw – interestingly – a significant increase in the overall demand for wine (among other forms of alcohol) throughout Europe. Most towns came to consume increased quantities of wine, and did not pay much attention to its actual quality.[84] At the very least, this ought to have provided vintners, such as those in ‘Germany,’ with a good number of potential markets for their ‘coarse’ wines, which, from the looks of things, did, in fact, give them enough pocket money to increase (over time) the quality of their wine. As a further stimulus, is should also be remembered that, as the popularity of wine increased, many people came to develop of sense of ‘wine discrimination’ or snobbery over the type (or quality) of wine they consumed.[85] The best barrels were, of course, enjoyed by kings and princes, while lesser wines reached the tables of the nobles and the middle classes.[86] After all, wine – at least in the sixteenth century – was still a luxury drink, and consumption by peasants remained limited even in wine-producing regions.[87]

     Thus, in the long run, it does seem apparent – from examining the (respectably probable) advancements in varietal cultivation – that overall viticulture was greatly improved by the turmoil brought on by the Protestant Reformation. While such horrific religious-based conflicts as the Thirty Years’ War in central Europe and the Wars of Religion in France resulted in countless vineyards being destroyed and incalculable numbers of skilled workers losing their lives, many vintners were able to make extensive developments in such areas as regional specialization to improved varietal cultivation. While there were plenty of obstacles to overcome, in the end, it does appear that the turmoil caused by the Protestant Reformation may very well have culminated in a new era of winemaking.

     Ultimately, then, the Protestant Reformation and corresponding wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seems to have fundamentally impacted on the overall institution of wine. To recap, Protestants came to differ greatly from Catholics, stressing the importance of the laity receiving both the bread and the wine at communion, as well as seriously disagreeing over the exact meaning and representational significance of the Eucharist. More importantly, many Protestants came to make a radical departure from the traditional Catholic stance on the issue of excessive consumption, eventually resulting in the notion of total abstinence becoming a widespread movement. Then, concerning economics, as a result of the many lengthy and violent wars which occurred throughout Europe in large part from the Protestant reform movements, wine production suffered considerable setbacks, from the destruction of vineyards to the deaths of thousands of skilled workers. While there may have been a significant increase in the demand for wine during this period, the religious wars of the Reformation made its growth as an industry extremely difficult. Such conflicts as the Thirty Years’ War in central Europe and the Wars of Religion in France not only dealt a horrific blow to European wine production, it severely hampered trade and caused prices to increase. Finally, concerning the issue of actual wine cultivation, the religious wars brought on by the Reformation stimulated some of the greatest turning points of viticultural practices in European history. With the destruction of so many vineyards and deaths of so many skilled workers, many vintners had to completely replant their vines and improve techniques. While there were plenty of obstacles to overcome, the developments of this period were extensive and seem to have culminated in a new era of winemaking. To be certain, the Protestant Reformation and corresponding wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries significantly affected the institution of wine.

     Now, as mentioned in the very beginning, the study of the history of wine – especially prior to the eighteenth century – is an exceedingly difficult task. For one thing, (reliable) primary sources pertaining to actual cultivation methods and trading patterns are justifiably hard to come by. And, while there may exist a considerable amount of personal tracts that provide valuable details on the radical new attitudes many Protestants took toward wine in religious ceremony and social consumption,oweveeHow it is still difficult to say whether or not such treatises served to effect any direct changes on viticulture or the wine trade.

     Hence, it has largely been by way of examining the various physical religious conflicts that this essay has adequately demonstrated how the Protestant Reformation had a vital impact on wine. Confessedly, there still remains a great number of questions that require further attention and the need for supplementary research on the subject of ‘wine and the Reformation’ at-large is clearly indicated – adequacy will, one day, have to be replaced with undisputed flawlessness. Until then, however, one thing is, indeed, certain: the study of the history of wine must invariably continue.*



[1] Roderick Phillips, A Short History of Wine (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 119.

[2] Jancis Robinson, ed., The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 372.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] William H. Willimon, Word, Water, Wine and Bread (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1980), 65-66.

[6] Ibid., 64.

[7] Irving Woodworth Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church on the use of Wine and Strong Drink (New York: Ams Press, Inc., 1970), 82.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Gregory A. Austin, Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio Information Services, 1985), 130.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 119.

[12] Austin, Alcohol in Western Society, 130.

[13] Hartmann S.J. Grisar, Luther, vol. III, trans. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1914), 308.

[14] Ibid., 309.

[15] Ann P. Tlusty, Bacchus and Civic Order: The Culture of Drink in Early Modern Germany (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2001), 69.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 73.

[18] Ibid., 77.

[19] Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine, prod. by Michael Gill and dir. by Murray Grigor, 381 min., Public Media Video, 1989, videocassette.

[20] Desmond Seward, Monks and Wine, with a forward by Hugh Johnson (London: Mitchell Beazley Publishers Limited, 1979), 136.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800, trans. Miriam Kochan (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd, 1973), 163.

[23] Ibid., 164.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Alison Sim, Food and Feast in Tudor England (Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997), 58.

[26] Tlusty, Bacchus and Civic Order, 29.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Grisar, Luther, 307.

[29] Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 130.

[30] Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine, 435.

[31] Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 286.

[32] Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 130.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Richard S. Dunn, The Age of Religious Wars, 1519-1715, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1979), 89.

[35] Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen, 1625-1676, The Adventures of a Simpleton: The Grimly Humorous German Classic of the Thirty Years’ War, trans. Walter Wallich (London: New English Library, 1962), 74.

[36] Wilhelm Abel, Agricultural Fluctuations in Europe: From the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Centuries, with a forward and bibliography by Joan Thirsk, trans. Olive Ordish (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980), 105.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Amanda S. Eurich, The Economics of Power: The Private Finances of the House of Foix-Navarre-Albret during the Religious Wars, vol. XXIV, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, Inc., 1994), 157.

[39] Ibid., 159.

[40] Richard P. Vine, Wine Appreciation, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997), 69.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 118.

[43] Edward Hyams, Dionysus: A Social History of the Wine Vine (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965), 188.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Thomas Babor, Alcohol: Customs and Rituals (London: Burke Publishing Company Limited, 1988), 30.

[46] Jean-Charles Sournia, A History of Alcoholism, trans. Nick Hindley and Gareth Stanton (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 14.

[47] Babor, Alcohol, 33.

[48] Ken Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003), 80.

[49] Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 118-19.

[50] Jan de Vries, The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600-1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 60.

[51] Ibid., 67.

[52] E.E. Rich and C.H. Wilson, eds., The Economy of Expanding Europe in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, vol. IV, The Cambridge Economy History of Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 410.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Austin, Alcohol in Western Society, 133.

[55] Ibid., 133-34.

[56] Jan Harm de Blij, Wine: A Geographic Appreciation, with a forward by Robert Hosmon (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman & Allanheld, 1983), 50.

[57] Alan David Francis, The Wine Trade (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1973), 35.

[58] De Blij, Wine, 50.

[59] Tim Unwin, Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 242.

[60] Rich, The Economy and Expanding Europe, 413.

[61] Carlo M. Cipolla, ed., The Sixteenth and the Seventeenth Centuries, vol. 2, The Fontana Economic History of Europe (London: Collins, 1974), 325.

[62] Thomas Brennan, Burgundy to Champagne: The Wine Trade in Early Modern France (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 16.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Cipolla, The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 325.

[65] Ibid., 326.

[66] Austin, Alcohol in Western Society, 202.

[67] Cipolla, The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 326.

[68] William Anthony Younger, Gods, Men, and Wine, with a forward by James Laver (London: The Wine and Food Society, 1966), 310.

[69] Unwin, Wine and the Vine, 233-34.

[70] Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine, 435.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Sim, Food and Feast, 62.

[73] Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine, 436.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Johnson, Vintage, 286.

[76] Ibid., 286-87.

[77] Sim, Food and Feast, 62.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Younger, Gods, Men, and Wine, 310.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Austin, Alcohol in Western Society, 202.

[82] Johnson, Vintage, 286.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Rich, The Economy and Expanding Europe, 407-408.

[85] Sournia, A History of Alcoholism, 14.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Austin, Alcohol in Western Society, 133.

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