Grapevine: Wine Backdrop On the 70th Anniversary of D-Day

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Listening to the media coverage, including the spoken words of the tales of the few remaining survivors of the invasion, brought the memory of the invasion and the war into vivid focus for me.

I realized the importance of keeping these images as our historical heritage and the price that our forebears paid to preserve what we take for granted today: peace and freedom. It was the efforts of American servicemen on D-Day and in the other theaters of World War II that preserved our way of living and launched the greatest era of economic and financial prosperity in our young country’s history.

By most estimates, there were nearly 4,500 Allied casualties on June 6, 1944, the first day of the invasion. Over the next three months, it is estimated that 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or reported missing.

As I immersed myself in the reporting and history of that day, I was imbued with a deep gratitude and a renewed appreciation for all that we enjoy today as a result of the sacrifices of all those who served during the war.

I also read with interest the perspective of modern day French citizens. Many French lost their lives and their fortunes. The future of France looked bleak for most of the war; the spirit and resolution of many citizens were broken. The expressions of gratitude from French citizens on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the war were heartfelt and appreciative.

Filled with these emotions, I pulled a book from my wine book collection that reminded me of one aspect of the exploits of the Nazis and the French resistance during the war. Appropriately titled “Wine & War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure,” written by American journalists Don and Petie Kladstrup in 2001, it recounts one small, and some might argue minor, component of the resistance that was waged in the wine cities and cellars of France.

The Germans had a passion, and a compulsion, for French art, sculpture–and fine wine. Many Americans became aware of their exploits in confiscating art and sculpture through the book and recent movie, “The Monuments Men.” But few realize the extent to which the German hierarchy coveted fine French wines.

They plundered, pillaged and commandeered wineries with a twofold goal: first, to raise money for the war effort and to, two, satiate their thirst for fine Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy wines.

To accomplish the former, they sent German agents into wine regions to seek out and transfer valuable wines to Germany for storage and onward sale. One secret cave found in Germany after the war contained 500,000 bottles of high-end Bordeaux, worth millions. These citizen appointees, sarcastically dubbed Weinführers by the French, encountered resistance–and French ingenuity–at every level. A number of Champagne houses hid substantial numbers of their fine bottles in plain sight of the Germans. In the cavernous underground of their limestone caves, they built false walls, which the Germans never found. Similar hidden rooms were utilized in restaurants and wine shops throughout France. To further deceive the Weinführers, wine owners strategically placed cobwebs on bottles of cheap wine to give them the appearance of older vintages.

To accomplish the latter, occupying German forces stormed wineries in search of fine wines. In the Champagne region alone, 400,000 bottles were demanded each week. At times risking their lives, the French adulterated their wines, adding carpet dust to new wines to give them instant aging. Some mislabeled bottles to dupe the Germans. A number of winemakers lost their lives.

The efforts of French winemakers has gone unnoticed in the annals of World War II history, but their resistance and patriotism, on their home soil, kept the French spirit propped up, as they waited five long years for the Allies to rescue them from the clutches of their enemy.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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