History of Bordeaux Wines
1st Century A.D. : The first winegrowers of Bordeaux
The vine first appears in our region in the 1st Century A.D., when the “Bituriges vivisques”, a tribe of warring Celts, decides to plant their own vines with a new grape variety which is more resistant to cold. This vine, called the “Biturica”, is the ancestor of today’s Cabernet vines.
12th Century A.D. – England and the birth of the commercial wine region
In 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine marries Henry Plantagenet, the future King of England. From then on, important commercial trade begins: the English export food, textiles and metals while importing the wines of Bordeaux. They name the wines “claret” because of its clear colour. The size of the English fleet and the ease of access to Bordeaux’s port by the Gironde estuary favours transport by sea and precipitates the rise of the region and the port. At this time, wines are shipped in “tonneaux”, whose capacity is 900 litres (4 barriques of 225 litres). The “tonneau” becomes the international unit of volume for shipping.
17th Century A.D. – The role of the Dutch
In the 17th Century, a new commercial era begins with the appearance of new clients: the Dutch, the Hanseatic League and Brittany. The Dutch start new commercial habits in that they buy large quantities of wine to distil in their own warehouses. The Bordelais begin to provide, in addition to the traditional “claret”, dry and sweet white wines also destined for distillation.
18th Century A.D. – The Americas
In the 18th Century, the islands of the Americas (Santo Domingo and the Lesser Antilles) assure the rise of Bordeaux’s wine exports. With this colonial trade, Bordeaux experiences extraordinary prosperity until the French Revolution. England, at this time, represents only 10% of wine exports. However, these wines are of the highest quality and they become “à la mode” with London high society. At the same time, the first bottles sealed with cork appear.
19th Century A.D. – Crisis and Prosperity
In the mid-19th Century, a terrible fungal disease attacks the vineyards: oïdium or powdery mildew. In 1857, it is discovered that sulphur treatment can stop the disease. After averting the peril of oïdium, the Gironde wine region enters an era of prosperity. This is testified by the famous classification of 1855, which lists the great growths of the Médoc, Sauternes and Château Haut Brion in the Graves. The Industrial Revolution and the development of a free spirit of exchange between the négociants and the producers contributes largely to the prosperity of Bordeaux. This prosperity reaches its apogey between 1865 and 1887 with increased production and a rise in exports to Germany, Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands and England.
20th Century A.D. – The time of regulation
By the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, the region sees a new crisis, that of fraud and the falling of prices. To prevent this, the Girondins participate in making a national legislation (1911) on the origin of wines, delimiting geographical appellations. This delimitation, leads to the creation of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) in 1936 and to the “décrets de contrôle”, which outline the conditions of production in each A.O.C. These conditions include geographical area, grape variety, yield, degree of alcohol; method of vine training and vinification. The A.O.C.’s represent 97% of production in the Bordeaux region. New classifications for St. Emilion and the Graves are created in 1955 and 1959, respectively. After the terrible frosts of 1956, the wine region regains, little by little, its dynamism, helped notably by increasing world demand for its wines.
Académie du Vin de Bordeaux
1, cours du 30 Juillet
33 000 BORDEAUX - France
Tél : 33 (0)5 56 00 21 95
Fax : 33(0)5 56 79 30 49