Professor Rod Phillips has published an article, “Liberality, Quality, Festivity: Wine in the French Revolution,” in the print and on-line editions of the World of Fine Wine. Published in the UK, the World of Fine Wine is widely recognized as one of the world’s most influential wine publications, and its scope includes the culture and history of wine. In his current article, Rod argues that the French Revolution was a pivotal period in the long history of French wine – which he surveyed in his book, French Wine: A History (University of California Press, 2016, paperback, 2019).
Focusing on Burgundy and based on archival research, the article discusses the wholesale shift in ownership of French wine production as a result of the expropriation of Church property – including thousands of hectares of vineyards – in 1790. This ended centuries of participation by Church entities, especially religious houses, in the production of wine in France.
This was only the beginning of the transformation of wine during the Revolution. Revolutionary governments aimed to provide citizens with plentiful, good-quality wine. The cultivation of healthy vines and the production of good wine was encouraged, and new winemaking techniques were explored. The state replaced guilds in the enforcement of wine quality, and anyone found making or distributing poor-quality wines was punished. (In one shocking case in 1794, a man who supplied faulty wine to soldiers was executed for treason.)
To make wine (and other necessities) affordable to citizens, sales taxes were abolished in 1791, and when inflation took hold by 1793, wine prices were controlled. Policies such as these made wine accessible to a broader market and helped establish wine as a popular national beverage.
Rod also examines the way wine became enmeshed in Revolutionary political culture. Fine and expensive wines associated with the Old Regime aristocracy were condemned, and straightforward, good-quality wine was portrayed as a patriotic drink. Clearly, the availability of decent wine at an affordable price was a tangible benefit of the Revolution. The French were not the first or the last people to judge the worth of their government by what was on their plates – or in their glasses.
Overall, Rod argues, changes in the production, consumption, and cultural meaning of wine during the French Revolution established the bases of French wine for the next century and more.
This article, written for a non-academic readership, is a preliminary exploration of some of the research Rod Phillips is doing for a book on wine in the French Revolution. The research, carried out in archives in many parts of France, is supported by an SSHRC Insight Grant.
You can read the article here: https://worldoffinewine.com/homepage-featured-articles/wine-french-revolution