Vouvray during WW2: A Wine Worth Fighting For

The wines of Vouvray, in France’s Loire Valley, represent the ancient treasure that is French wine, a wine worth fighting for during WW2.

Credit: Chateau Moncontour
Credit: Chateau Moncontour
Hidden Bottles, Wine Parties in Prison and a Historical Winemaker: Gaston Huet

At the mention of Vouvray, I’m reminded of a gentleman that passed way about 15 years ago. That he lived into his 90’s could be considered a miracle, a rich stoke of good fortune for the wine community. Gaston Huet was a winemaker in Vouvary, in France’s beautiful Loire Valley. Huet was called to active duty; early in the war he was  captured by the enemy in Calais. He was separated from his family and vineyards for five years while in a German prisoner of war camp. By the time he returned to his vines in Vouvray, he was a changed man: 100 pounds lighter and in tears over his reunion with his little girl and his overrun, untended vines.

Three books that I've used for years to research the time period of wine in WW2.
Three books that I’ve used for years to research the history of wine during the  WW2 years.

But Gaston Huet’s tale is not entirely one of loss. In fact, his story (as told through many outlets, including the outstanding book Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup) is personified by a string of inspiring events that start with the wine he made in Vouvray at his Domaine Huet. During his time in the POW camp, his thoughts turned to his wine, not only the vines that were growing wildly but the bottles that he’d hidden in local caves before his conscription. Winemakers all over France adopted sneaky and unexpected measures to hide wine from confiscation and export for German use.

Other POWs were also winemakers, so conversation often turned to wine regions, techniques, vintages…but much of the discussion was that of severe deprivation. Everyone missed home; everyone was desperate for the wines they’d left behind. Communication home was undoubtedly unreliable, but there were ways to get in touch…This gave Huet the idea to plan a wine party for the prisoners.

Cleverly, Huet blackmailed a guard to allow shipments of wine from home to be admitted into the camp. While this was a time-consuming process, not without it’s misfortunes, wine did eventually arrive from vineyards all over the country. Huet had devised a system where each man would be able to sip wine more-or-less of his own choosing, seven men to a bottle…such limited supply. The evening of the wine party arrived, celebrated with unexpected dignity, creativity and fanfare. The wine bottles were arranged in an orderly fashion around the room and everyone knew their place. Each man found their spot by their designated bottle, and there they found the following passage:

This evening will give us time to recall and glory in one of France’s purest treasures, our wine, at to alleviate the misery with which we have had to live for so long. A party to celebrate wine? No, it is not just that. It is also a celebration of us and how we have survived. With this little glass of wine, that we are going to drink tonight, we will savor not only a rare fruit but also the joy of a satisfied heart.

Huet’s eventual return to wine-making, starting almost from scratch with a body and vineyards that had been so malnourished during the war, continued for decades as France returned to peace and prosperity. His domaine is regarded as a trailblazer in biodynamique wine and produces a suite of age-worthy whites.

Credit: Domaine Huet website. Gaston Huet with Jean Bernard Berthome at Clos du Bourg.
Credit: Domaine Huet. Gaston Huet with Jean Bernard Berthome at Clos du Bourg.

Huet’s story, though famously recounted and incredibly interesting, isn’t by far the only story of how French wine was protected, often through resistance measures, during WW2. Wine growers were constantly at a loss for farming materials; estate owners and workers were conscripted and captured; families were left in fear of occupation and reparations for any resistance activity. Early Vincy dictates on a healthful lifestyle, with very limited alcohol consumption, regulated French enjoyment of their own wine, wine that was being funneled into German hands.

Despite the grim odds in front of them, however, many winemakers of France applied ingenuity and bravery to craft plans and communication efforts to preserve their product and vineyards. Cellars were disguised as empty or invaluable, vigneron properties were ‘donated’ to resistance work, and occupation methods were thwarted and undermined.

Credit: Decanter, Moet et Chanon harvest during WW2
Credit: Decanter, Moet et Chanon harvest during WW2
My Story: Que Faire, What Are We To Do?

The topic is fascinating, and I’ve spent the last decade researching and writing about wine-makers and the resistance for my book, which is set in Provence and tells the story of Jean-Pierre, a displaced winemaker who seeks to revitalize phylloxera-eliminated Mourvèdre in Provence and the Southern Rhône Valley and decades later, in 1970’s Napa Valley, California. Resistance work to preserve French wines plays a substantial role in the book.

My visit to the Drouhin cellars in Beaune, including Porte de la Liberté, a key landmark in Burgundy's resistance story.
My visit to the Drouhin cellars in Beaune, including Porte de la Liberté, a key landmark in Burgundy’s resistance story.

As a writer, this story has become my ‘life’s work’…not only because a novel is a time-consuming and all-out project, but because it has led me to live the life of a French winemaker, though I’ve never made wine. Through research for this book I’ve traveled all over France, including the Drouhin cellars in Burgundy (which represent the depth of the impact of wine resistance, another story). I’ve come to know dozens of Provençal vignerons, invited to taste their wine and visit their estates and (especially) to tell their stories. I’ve written extensively about French wine for many publications and have connected with a global network of wine-lovers and wine-makers. My life’s work has become, simply, my life.

Provence, where the story begins for my characters.
Provence, where the story begins for my characters.

Though this isn’t supposed to be a write-up of my life, it is a testament to the everlasting meaning of a single sip of wine, just like that small glass Huet shared with six other prisoners many years ago. It doesn’t take more than a few drops, sometimes, to tell the gospel of wine.

The Wine

I did enjoy a bottle of wine with my husband, and a meal with my family, last night. We made a traditional French dish of pork with herbs de Provence and braised lentils.  I utilized this gorgeous recipe from The Cafe Sucre Farine:  A French Country Farmhouse Dinner. The food was paired with a bottle of Vouvray, a 2014 demi-sec from Château Moncontour, which has been run by the Ferey family since 1994.  The wine estate now spans 130 acres and thrives on some of the most historic vineyards in Touraine.

Touraine-born author Balzac wanted so badly to own the grand château on the property that he famously wrote to his wife:

If we could have Moncontour, all my plans would change. I would not furnish the Paris apartment so lavishly, we would wait longer; I would gather all of my efforts and focus them on the Moncontour castle, because we could live in it forever.

The Meal

A few pictures of the lovely meal and wine follow. I’m left now, a bit melancholy and I’m reminded of all the families that weren’t able to dine together during the war years and into perpetuity, and for all the bottles and vintages that were lost in the struggle for peace, for all the people left longing for a place they couldn’t have…

vouvray fixins
The meal during prep, such gorgeous ingredients.
The finished meal.
The finished meal.
A note about the book

Though I’ve worked on it for years, it’s only recently been finished and now I’m seeking just-the-right agent to represent the book. If any readers know of someone, please reach out. In the meantime, a short story about Jean-Pierre’s childhood is scheduled for publication in an upcoming anthology, and I’ll share all the details upon release.

The French Winophiles

I’m proud to share this story in partnership with The French Winophiles, other wine writers and bloggers. We all exhibit an interest in and passion for the wines of France. This month we focus on the wines of Chinon, Touraine and Vouvray.  Grab a glass (or bottle) and embark on this virtual journey with us on twitter with the hashtag #Winophiles on Saturday May 21 at 10:00 am central time. Included in the panel are:

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla tempts us with “Cod in a Mushroom Cream Sauce with Dom Pichot Vouvray”

You are reading: Jill of L’occasion shares “Vouvray During WW2: A Wine Worth Fighting For”

Jeff from foodwineclick brings us “Easy Spring Dinner with Pommes Gratin and Chinon”

Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Taste of Montlouis Pétillant Originel”

Michelle from Rockin Red Blog shares “Diving into Loire Valley Wines with Winophiles: Chinon”

Christy, our generous host from Confessions of a Culinary Diva, will be sharing “Chicken and Chinon”

Make sure to join in our live Twitter Chat on Saturday, May 21st using hashtag #Winophiles at 8 am PST/11 am EST.

Upcoming Events:

June 18th – Upper Loire – Cheverny, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume/Pouilly-Sur-Loire

July 16th – Medoc, Haute Medoc

August 20th – St. Emilion/St. Emilion Satelites

September 17th – Graves and Entre-Deux-Mers

All_About_France_blog_linky_with_Lou_Messugo

For more compelling writing and photography about France, consider visiting the #AllAboutFrance collection at Lou Massugo.

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50 Comments Add yours

  1. pedmar10 says:

    Great post on a beloved subject of mine, Sopexa graduate and wine aficionado with a cellar in Brittany ::) I know the Huet property well as get my house wines from the area.Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Oh, I might have to pick your brain! May I please contact you with questions if I have research needs?

      You must have stories to tell…. and outstanding house wines!

      Thanks for reading and reaching out. It’s my pleasure. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pedmar10 says:

        Of course anything about wines love to talk about. Ijust had a Val Jonis from the Luberon ::) and a Chiroubles from Les Trois Puits of Jacques Charlet; apéro El Candado of Valdespino sherry country red sweet ::)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jill Barth says:

          I need some sherry recommendations!

          Thank you for connecting! Let’s keep in touch.

          Like

          1. pedmar10 says:

            I am in Madrid now when back remind me ok chau chau

            Like

  2. MeaghanC says:

    What a wonderful story! Congratulations on finishing your book. What an amazing accomplishment 🙂 Wine & War is probably my favorite wine book. I’ve read the book so many times the stories are captivating, inspirational and at times heart breaking.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Isn’t it an incredible book? I’ve got little notes and flags all throughout and I still keep going back. Even writing this article, I spent a good portion of time re-reading until I forced myself to get back to work!

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great recap. If you are going to WBC 16, happy to talk historical fiction.
    Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I’m considering going but haven’t wrapped up plans yet. Cheers & thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful story about Gaston Huet! I met him once ; I went to his home. He sold me a couple of bottles of Vouvray that are still in my cellar. I bought them from him, himself, standing in his kitchen. I can’t wait to read the Drouhin story.
    Great article !!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Edwin! How incredible!

      You cellar is a treasure chest…so must be your memories & stories. I’d love to hear all about this meeting.

      When will you open one? What is your pairing?

      I’m jealous.

      Like

  5. Oz's Travels says:

    Great Post, can’t wait to read the book

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you! It’s fascinating to read these stories. In Illinois (where I live) a group of researchers have recorded video interviews with individuals that fought in WW2. Each one is captivating…. such a treasure that these stories are preserved.

      They are on YouTube…anyone can watch.

      Thanks for your comment. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. culinarycam says:

    This is marvelous, Jill! I can’t wait to read more. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks Camilla! I’m so ready to read, eat & taste more from Vouvray.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  7. Absolutely fascinating! Thank you for great insight Jill. Cheers!

    Like

  8. Jill, I love Wine & War and have enjoyed visiting a few of your haunts in research of your book. Can’t wait to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks Jeff, it’s so fascinating. What a time, what a life to have lived.

      Like

  9. I’m a a bit of WWII history buff Jill. Though I mostly see it from the American perspective, you post has reminded me, yet again, of the sacrifices made by the French. A visit to Champagne a couple of years ago likewise reminded me. A great post. I look forward to reading your book! Oh, and I’m going to pick up a bottle of Huet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hi Martin — My sons are WW2 history buff as well. There is an incredible project in my state of Illinois, an oral history collection of veterans of the second world war: https://www.youtube.com/user/ilveteransproject

      This is an ultimate treasure and I hope you have time to explore some of the videos. Thanks for your comment and for reading along!

      Like

  10. Jill, this is so interesting. Can’t wait to read your book once it is released.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks so much! I’ll keep everyone posted. Cheers & thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  11. Reblogged this on ROCKIN RED BLOG and commented:
    This week I am exploring a new “series” on Rockin Red Blog. I am going to feature a fellow blogger’s article each day to offer you some variety.

    Kicking off my reblog week is a fascinating article by Jill Barth. As you know I love history. When time permits and it is appropriate I try to share the history of a wine or region with you in articles. While in Italy a couple of weeks ago I heard first hand how WWII deeply impacted two wineries. In this article Jill shares another impact of WWII on the wine community, this time in the Loire Valley. But it does not end there; Jill also features a lovely wine and food pairing.
    Happy Monday! Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Bravo Jill! What a milestone to finish your book draft, I hope we can all read it in print very soon. And, your celebration dinner looked delicious too.

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you! It will be my pleasure to share the book (and a meal) with everyone when the process wraps up. Thank you!

      Like

  13. This is just fascinating! I can totally see how the research would consume your life. Congrats on finishing the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you! Yes, totally consuming.

      I appreciate your kind words. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Jerry says:

    Jill,
    I very much enjoyed reading about Gaston Huet. When living in France (1988-94) I visited his cave on a couple of occasions. He was such a gracious man, once giving me some of his sparkling Vouvray when I informed him of the birth of our daughter Capucine. I treasure my remaining bottles of his wonderful late harvest Chenin Blanc’s. They are ageless.
    Jerry

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jerry. What is so interesting to me is that you are the third reader that not only met Gaston Huet, but personally received bottles from him.

      What an incredible person he must have been. I’d love to hear more about your time with him. Did you drink any of the bottles over the years?

      Cheers, and thank you for commenting.

      Like

      1. Jerry says:

        The impressions that remain are going into the deep cavern dug in the hillside that contained his barrels of aging wines. Also a stop at his home with him, which as I recall was on the vineyard land above the chai. I was not in the wine trade, nor buying all that much wine for myself, but he was so generous with his time. I still have the majority of the wines bought from him, as I am a fan of laying down good wine for a long time. As 1986 and 1990 are the birth years of our daughters there are bottles resting for them. I did have the ’86 Clos du Bourg in June of 2007, and assured Florie it will keep until she has a home with a proper cellar I can transfer the remaining bottles into. Capucine will have to wait as well for the three half bottles of ’90 Cuvée Constance. Those bottles continue to rest in France. Here in CT I have two special ones being held for that certain moment – a 1952 Le Mont Demi-Sec, and a 1947 Haut Lieu.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jill Barth says:

          Wow, incredible. These are the good stuff. Thanks for sharing, so glad you did.

          Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you! It really is…I never tire of learning more!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Sally says:

    Hi Jill, can see that I’m going to have to read both Wine & War and your book when it is published. My brother-in-law’s father spent his childhood in a prisoner of war camp in France. He sadly passed away recently, and it is something I know very little about. It is moving to hear about the ‘wine party’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hello & thanks for reading & commenting.

      There is a very interesting project to gather oral histories direct from ww2 veterans. It’s incredible. I have a family member, now deceased, that fought in Guadalcanal & Iwo Jima. He was able to share his story a few months before he died. While watching his video I discovered other stories, including Americans that fought with the French résistance which has been such treasure.

      Thanks for sharing with us!

      Like

    2. Jill Barth says:

      See above for link!

      Like

  16. mavenclark says:

    Just noticed again your three source books that provided background. I was very much taken with Suite Française when it first appeared. So difficult to imagine the tearing apart of families caused by WWII. A good friend near Lyon once told me of her parents sheltering ten Jewish children at their farm in latter part of the war. Her father kept a piece of paper with their names in his wallet for the rest of his life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      It certainly makes my afternoon’s concerns of braces, bike tires & baseball practice seem like great “problems” to have.

      Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maintland is another fantastic, true, story of the time. Have you read that?

      Thanks for your comment.

      Like

      1. mavenclark says:

        No, I am not familiar with this work. But will now look into it. Many thanks for the reference.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. What an amazing story, I’ve never considered wine and war together. Congratulations on finishing your book, I hope you find a great agent so we can read it soon (with a bottle of Vouvray to celebrate). Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you so much, Phoebe! Cheers!

      Like

  18. Jim McNeill says:

    Hi….Thanks for your kind comments re my own blog. Can you tell me if your book has been published yet….I’d love to buy a copy. Kind regards, Jim

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hi Jim — Thanks for reading and commenting. Your blog is an outstanding resource. Thank you for keeping these stories available for us all. My book isn’t published yet, but I’ll keep everyone posted. Thanks for your interest. Cheers & thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

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