A History of Wine in France

From the Gauls to the
Eighteenth Century


Who first brought wine to France?

The Greeks; but the Gauls liked it and were quick learners.

Who would ever smoke wine?

The Romans, who taught the Gauls to do the same. They sometimes added pitch to it too.

Did vineyards ever grow in Paris?

They did, and for a very long time the resulting wine was considered excellent. (A few still grow there today, but don't ask about the wine...)

From "An Overview of Le Grand d'Aussy on Wine":

"Le Grand d'Aussy's chapters on wine appear at the end of the first volume and the start of the second volume in his first edition, after a section on beer and cider and before those on brandies, spirits and hot and cold drinks. Since modern readers may be more or less interested in the different aspects of the subject he chooses to address, this overview is provided as a guide to what lies ahead.

He begins with a look at the origins of wine in France – a subject on which ancient authorities differ – and the trade in it between the Gauls and the Romans. Though wine was adopted early in France, vineyards initially did not appear far above the Cevennes. Some of the best grapes were already found in Bordeaux, though other regions (not always definitively identified) were mentioned.

After discussing Gallic methods of grape cultivation, he discusses the qualities of some of their wines and the use of pitch (among other substances) to flavor – arguably adulterate – wine. After touching on some of the other means of improving wines (including the use of sugar in his own period), he describes the use of smoke by both the Gauls and the Romans to thicken and “age” wine, and provides a detailed look at of one way of doing this..."

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Some samples from the book

"It is not that we do not find among the Ancients abundant matter to furnish an answer; but the testimonies of these are, as I have already had occasion to note several times in similar cases, so opposed and so contradictory that they multiply the difficulties, rather than resolving them.

Open Justin and Strabo: you will see there that it was the Phoceans who first brought the vine to Gaul, and the first to teach the Gauls the art of cutting and cultivating it. Consult Pliny and he will tell you to the contrary that the first to make wine known to the Gauls was a Helvetian, named Elicon, who, after having made some money in Rome, wanting to return home, took with him some wine and some dried fruit which in passing through Gaul he sold to the inhabitants, urging them to conquer the happy land which produced so sweet a liquor. Will you trust Plutarch and Titus-Livy? It was not a Helvetian, but to a Tuscan that was due the Gauls' expedition..."

"Our Kings had vineyards in their domains. Each of their Palaces had its vines, with a press and all the instruments necessary for the grape harvest. Charlemagne's Capitularies offer proof of this. The Monarch is seen there to enter, for this type of administration, into the greatest detail with his Stewards. When, after the death of Louis the Debonair, the three sons of this Prince, laying down their arms, finally agreed on the division of his States, Charles the Bald had western France; Lothair, eastern France and Italy; and Louis, what was in Germany, beyond the Rhine. But, as the latter, in his lot, did not have any vineyards, the Chronicles of Saxony and of the Monk Sigisbert note that a few towns or villages beyond the River, which produced wine were added to his portion."

"These expressions
, bouchaus, bouteilles, were generic terms applied without distinction to any vessel or measure whatever. The Fishermen, and other people of the river still today call bottes or boutiques, the large and small chests, pierced with holes, which they use to keep the fish they have caught in water. In the Beaujolais, and in some other regions of France, this same botte is used for a portion of wine, containing, like the queue of Burgundy, or like the pipe of Anjou and Poitou, two muids, Paris measure.

In the XVth century, these boutiaux or boutilles took the name of bottles; and this name was kept afterwards for the glass flasks which we use today, when these became customary."

"There were those who had their wine advertised in the city by the town Crier. Albéric of Trois-Fontaines, for the year of 1235, talks of a woman of Cambrai, known for her devotion and for her charity who, one day when the Crier was so announcing good wine, very good wine, excellent wine, gave him money to cry, God is clement, God is merciful, God is good, very good; and followed him, saying, it is the truth. She was accused of heresy, and burned with twenty other heretics."

Table of Contents

    • About Le Grand d'Aussy's Work
    • About This Translation
    • An Overview of Le Grand d'Aussy on Wine
  • Wine in Gaul
    • Planting of vines in Gaul
    • Types of Gallic grapes most esteemed by the Romans
    • How the Gauls trellised their vines
    • And fertilized them
    • Gallic wines, and their quality
      • Foreign substances which the Gauls put in their wines
      • Methods of the Ancients for smoking their wine
    • Vines torn up in Gaul by order of Domitian
    • Replanted by permission of Probus
  • Wine Under the Early French Kings
    • Vineyards possessed by our Kings
    • Trade of wines of France with foreign lands
    • Of wines of Guyenne with England
    • Vines torn up a second time in France
    • Rules to prevent the excessive proliferation of vines
  • Wine Retailing
    • Sale of wine by the pot
    • The right of wine-ban
    • Carriers
    • Wine retailers
    • Hostlers
    • Merchants of wine by the pot
    • Cabaret/tavern keeps
    • Wine criers
  • Wine production and transport
    • Time when white wine began to be made with black raisin grapes
    • Rape wine
    • Buvande, or Expense
    • Containers
      • Casks
      • Use of pitch inside casks
      • Brick barrels and cisterns for wine
      • Wine-skins
      • Bottles
      • Leather vessels
  • The most prized wines of France since the origin of the Monarchy
    • Wines from around Paris
    • The most used types of grapes
    • Vines in Brittany
    • Vines in Normandy
    • Vines in Picardy
    • Quarrel between Burgundy and Champagne about their wines
    • Dispute about the value of the wine of Auxerre and the wine of Joigny
    • Foreign wines
  • Presents and pious legacies in wine
    • Patronage paid in wine
    • Wine given to Criminals and their Judges
  • Wine and celebration
    • Wine fountains in public celebrations
    • Entertainments during grape harvests
  • Artificial wines
    • Aromatic wines of the Gauls
    • Cooked wine
    • Wines with aromatic herbs
      • Médon, Nectar
      • Piment
      • Clairet
      • Hippocras
      • Making seasoned wines
  • Fruit wines

About Le Grand's Work

"The current volume has been extracted, translated and retitled from Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d'Aussy's classic work on French food and drink, which has come down to us with the slightly misleading title of Histoire de la vie privée des Français depuis l’origine de la nation jusqu’à nos jours; that is, “History of the private life of the French from the origin of the nation until our days”. Though Le Grand originally intended to produce such a comprehensive work, in practice he only finished the three volumes on food and drink (first published in 1783). Incomplete as these may be in terms of the overall project, they are almost manically thorough in their examination of the specific subject and have remained, over the centuries, some of the prime sources on the subject. Not only do even modern writers continue to draw on them for key information, more than one writer (in both French and English) has shamelessly copied whole stretches of Le Grand's work, well after it was written, and presented it as their own.

...He is, in a word, not only an informative but a lively and enjoyable writer, but one who, in English, is more often cited than translated at length. The present effort is intended to remedy that, if only in small measure."

A glimpse at Le Grand's historical list of wines

"A piece from this time has come down to us (Fabliau de la Bataille des vins) from even a few years before the account, and already, like him, cited above, which gives us the list of those of France said to be the best, and which leaves us nothing to desire on this point.

Among the wines of Province or of regions, the Poet praises those of the Gâtinais, of Auxois, of Anjou, and of Provence.

Regarding particular wines, known in different Provinces, one sees that,

The Angoumois, had that of Angoulême.

The Aunis, that of La Rochelle.

Auvergne, that of St. Pourçain (a).

a. Another of our XIIIth century Poets, speaking of a man who became very rich, says of him, to give us an idea of his luxury, that he no longer drank anything but the wine of St. Pourçain.

The Berry, of Santerre, of Châteauroux, of Issoudun, and of Buzançais.

Champagne, of Chabli [near, and at one time part of, Champagne], Epernay, Rheims, Hauvilliers, Sezanne, Tonnerre.

Guyenne, of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion, Trie and Moissac.

The Isle de France, of Argenteuil, Deuil, Marly, Meulan, Soissons, Montmorenci, Pierrefite and St. Yon.

The Languedoc, of Narbone, Béziers, Montpeller, and Carcassonne.

The Nievernais, that of Névers, Vézelay...."

All text and translations copyright 2011 Jim Chevallier.
Please do not reproduce or post elsewhere without prior permission.


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UPDATED: August 27, 2022