The Impact of the French Revolution on the World of French Wine…
In France, today is La Fête Nationale, Le quatorze juillet, le 14 juillet, the fourteenth of July, or, for English speaking countries…Bastille Day, which commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Federation, that was held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July,1789. The next 5 years marked societal and governmental instability and the Reign of Terror by Robespierre and his Jacobin radicals, when thousands of heads literally rolled until his own did in July,1794.
The French Revolution, which targeted the church and its monastic holdings and the aristocracy with its feudal privileges, had a profound effect on the French wine industry.
Prior to the revolution, the vineyards were owned either by the monks, especially in Burgundy and Champagne and by the nobility, especially in Bordeaux. When the revolution occurred in 1789, vineyards were confiscated from the church and nobility, nationalized and sold in auction to the bourgeoisie, the new aristocracy. Changes in vineyard ownership provided opportunity for people of all social groups to take advantage of a profitable segment of the economy. Even peasants benefited. More vines were planted, especially around the Mediterranean, taxes were abolished and subsequently production, demand and consumption increased.
The industry has evolved and changed dramatically since the revolution as trade expanded and nations in the New World began wine production. In the 1800’s, the Napoleonic Code abolished primogeniture, the inheritance to the first-born, and replaced it with granting minimal amounts of an estate to each child, further segmenting vineyards, especially in Burgundy. The outbreak of Phylloxera, a louse that all but wiped out the vineyards of Europe, came in the latter portion of the nineteenth century.
The French Revolution dramatically changed both France and its wine industry forever. Much has been written about the effects of the revolution. The confiscation of vineyards from which group, the church or the nobility, had the bigger effect on France’s wine industry as a result of the revolution? This question continues to be debated among different schools of wine experts and historians today, with no clear answer.
Enjoy this short clip of the fireworks my son and I watched on 14 juillet, 2010, from the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Until next time…à votre santé!
Photos and film clip by Christine Humphrey ©2012