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The wine society during the war

In the opening of the message from the Chairman, Sarah Evans, she says,

Our temporary closure is the first time in the 146-year history of The Society that we have stopped taking orders. Not even during the World Wars did we have to pause operations.

This totally piqued my interest. How did the wine society cope with the war? Where did the wine come from? Who bought it? And how much?

Does anyone have any insights on these topics? A company historian perhaps? I for one would love to know more about how the landscape was different in 1918 or 1939 and what it took to keep people in their favourite beverage back in the day.

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Me too.

It must have been a much smaller operation, even smaller during the first war of course, and wine was not nearly such a popular drink. But this still begs the question of where the wine came from. Perhaps that was what got TWS more involved with new world wines.

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I seemed to remember reading once about wine being brought over from France and kept in cask in England for a few years before being sold. I wonder whether there was enough to keep the enterprise going for a few years when it was hard to import…

My wilder thoughts were teams of resistance partisans who were smuggling in the good stuff.

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UK wine merchants frequently and perhaps usually bottled their own wines from cask imports up until the 70s certainly. I suspect that these reserves kept things going during the wars. Also, port and sherry were significant components of lists then, and would have been less affected for various reasons.

One wonders whether the decline in German wine began with the First World War?

I don’t think that the World Wars were responsible for the increase in popularity of New World wines in the UK. I think it was well into the 70s before that began to any degree, but happy to stand corrected.

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I remember, maybe falsely, that @Ewan has posted something about the Society’s cellars being in Central London (King’s Cross?) before moving to Stevenage. He must be a fountain of knowledge on this topic, or if not, is most likely to know the right person.

Whilst not dealing with the UK wine situation, there is an excellent book that I can heartily recommend titles ‘War and Wine’ by Donald and Petie Kladstrup detailing how France coped with Occupation and running their wine industry. Very revealing!

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Up until fairly recently, the back page of each edition of the Society’s main list was a table of the accrued dividends applied to each share number. It showed the share numbers issued in each year, from which you could see how many new members joined each year. It is no longer published there (why not? Do we still get divis? Is it available on the website somewhere?), but if I remember correctly, there was next to no new members during the second war, but recruitment carried on unabated certainly in the early years of the first war. If someone keeps their old Lists perhaps they could give a screenshot?

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I’m fairly certain that in TWS rules there are no member’s dividends, any profit is ploughed back in to TWS ?

I remembered a similar question being asked last year…so here is the link to the thread

I can speak with confidence that German wine was incredibly popular after WWII - top selling wines in the 1970s included Blue Nun and Blacktower. Liebfraumilch was on every wine list, as was Niersteiner and Piersporter.

Hock was on every wine drinkers lips :slight_smile:

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I remember reading somewhere that there were auctions of German wine (which was seen as unpatriotic) in 1914 in aid of the red cross I think. The price collapsed and I can imagine that a few canny buyers got some deals.

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I think we have some old Lists from during the world wars at the office! I’ll see if I can get hold of some when lockdown is over.

I think our News editor Jo will also have more info on this so I’ll ask her on Monday. :smiley:

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Yes I think Jo will have info onthis and may have already penned an article or two in the past. Either way I’m sure she will have some great insight.

Here it is, but it came from the Annual Report - not the List. Just realise I haven’t had a printed report for a few years now. Is it no longer printed and sent out to Members? I used to keep them religiously for the vintage reports, but as I didn’t notice them stop I suppose I haven’t missed them tremendously

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It is intersting to note that The Society started while France was still dealing with Phylloxera, and even in WWI (if I remember my history right) it was still suffering from widespread quality issues, as the industry was desperately recovering, and quantity was essential to keep it viable. The control measures to improve quality were introduced in the interwar period, culminating in the AOC system, and even after WWII I understand UK merchants were (ahem) “improving” wines of questionable origin and selling it with well known names.

My point is that, in addition to the actual wars, there were serious issues in gaining access to good quality wine. I wonder how TWS fited into that picture? Maybe the quantities it dealt with were so small it was able to maintain high standards, and that was part of the point of its creation and existence?

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That’s really interesting. Looking at the WWII era there were still significant numbers of shares being issued until '42 when it starts falling off to, presumably, nothing in '44 and '45. But no similar pattern in WWI maybe because France was never fully occupied? Or maybe because Britain wasn’t as effectively besieged in WWI.

Yes I believe the annual reports have all moved online although printed copies are available on request.

They also no longer do the buyers reports in the same way. I think the intention was to make them more current by keeping them digital, but IMO they’re not as interesting or useful now.

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This looks like a good one, I’ll have to add it to the reading list.

Thanks for digging that out, Steve - really interesting! Apart from the actual war years, it seems the Society was pretty much moribund in the immediate post war years - total recruitment of new members from 1943 - 50 was 26! And then 2,800 joined in y/e Jan '51 - a 15% increase, so presumably there must have been a big recruitment drive that year. Or perhaps that was when word got out about the (now legendary) 1945 clarets?

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