Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade

By Tim Unwin | Go to book overview

6

MEDIEVAL VITICULTURE AND THE WINE TRADE

Peu d'événements, depuis la conquête romaine, ont autant contribué à promouvoir dans le monde la production vinicole de la France que le rapide et brillant épanouissement des villes, a partir du XIe siècle, dans les pays de la mer du Nord, et particulièrement en Flandre. Les principaux habitants de ces villes, ceux qui animaient le commerce et régentaient les métiers, avaient acquis, avec la richesse, un orgueil de classe qui trouvait l'une de ses satisfactions dans la consommation ostentatoire du vin. [Few events in the world since the Roman conquest contributed as much to promote French wine production as did the rapid and brilliant blossoming of towns from the eleventh century in the countries of the North Sea, and particularly in Flanders. The chief inhabitants of these towns, those who animated commerce and dominated the crafts, had acquired, with the wealth, a class pride which found one of its gratifications in the ostentatious consumption of wine.]

(Dion, 1959:201)

Three main images are to be found in the literature concerning viticulture and the wine trade during the medieval period. The first is the contrast that is widely thought to have existed between Mediterranean and northern viticulture, with the former being seen as largely subsistence based and the latter as being directed much more towards export trade and commercial profit (Dion, 1959; Postan, 1966; Lachiver, 1988). The second image concerns the organisation and structure of that trade, which is usually envisaged as being dominated, virtually to the exclusion of all others, by the regular wine fleets that sailed between England and Gascony (James, 1971), and the third general conception is that viticulture during the Middle Ages was static and experienced little if any technical change (de Blij, 1983). While there is some truth in all of these generalisations, they hide the many local variations that existed in medieval viticulture, and the main purpose of this chapter is therefore to deconstruct these popular images. In so doing it examines the changing

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