By Catherine Rush Thompson
"Great is the fortune of he who possesses a good bottle, a good book, and a good friend.” ~ Molière
No doubt, Molière was referring to wine when he suggested a good bottle.
France has the reputation of being one of the world leaders of wine production. According to wine expert Andrew Jefford, “If you want to make great wine, what we call ‘France’ is the luckiest land mass on earth… It is the only major wine-producing nation on earth which covers both propitious [favorable] cool-climate, high-latitude zones and warmer-climate, mid-latitude zones…Nowhere else on earth can quite match France in terms of fine wine quality and diversity…It’s also, geologically speaking, a relatively young place, with vast chalk and limestone deposits, and alkaline soils…with a profusion of hill slopes and gravel terraces.” These conditions, along with cool, dry winds are reportedly ideal for growing grape vines. For those who love wine, French wine producers in Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley are at the top of the list.
However, France has not always had optimal growing conditions for its famous wines. In 1868 a mysterious blight was causing French vines to die. This infestation relentlessly attacked the wine regions, considered the soul of France by many. People feared that the entire European wine industry would be wiped out. In fact, this Great French Wine Blight destroyed well over 40% of French vineyards in the 1860s and 1870s.
“La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin.” (Life is too short to drink bad wine.)
In the meantime, Missouri was developing its own wine industry. With westward expansion in the United States, tens of thousands of immigrants from Europe, including Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy, were lured to the Midwest with its rich soil, abundant waterways, and natural resources for starting a new life. These immigrants brought their work ethic and knowledge of wine making along with carefully wrapped clippings from their Old-World vineyards with them to the region.
German immigrants settled in the Missouri River valley and established vineyards and wineries on both sides of the river. Germans (who settled in Hermann, Missouri in 1837) thought that they had ideal conditions to grow grapes for wine. Missouri's continental climate was characterized by long, hot summers with good sun exposure. This climate, along with fertile soil, proved to be excellent for growing grapes. The wine making industry took hold. For example, Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri (founded by German immigrant Michael Poeschel in 1847), began producing wine prolifically. According to Jim Held, owner of Stone Hill Winery: “In 1870 Stone Hill Winery produced about 1,250,000 gallons of wine per year, making it the third-largest producer of wine in the world and the second-largest producer in the United States. Stone Hill’s wines were becoming world-renowned and won eight gold medals at various World’s Fairs, including in Vienna in 1873 and Philadelphia in 1876.” The history of winemaking in Hermann, Missouri became well established.
Like their American counterparts, the French experimented with hybrid varieties, crossing their vines with new species imported from the United States. Was it this experimentation that led to the blight seen in the French vineyards?
Two Missouri experts, George Hussmann and Charles V. Riley, were invited to France to examine the vines and make recommendations for recovering the vineyards. Hussman, a viticulturist from University of Missouri at Columbia, had the scientific knowledge, combined with agricultural techniques, to examine the grape vines and the quality of the grapes that were being produced. Riley, Missouri’s first entomologist, was more familiar with categorizing different species of bugs and working on pest eradication. What they discovered was that small American plant lice (phylloxerae) were causing the problem.
Riley knew that certain species of French vines were susceptible to parasites when French colonists in Florida tried and failed to cultivate their vines in the 1500s. The American parasites destroyed the vulnerable French vines. Riley suspected that the vines in France were similarly vulnerable to the American pests. It is believed that these damaging parasites were inadvertently imported to France on American vines purchased by avid botanists in the 1850s. Unlike the American rootstocks, French vines were not immune to these parasites. So, experimentation with new hybrid varieties, crossing their vines with strange, new species did, in fact, indirectly cause the blight. These parasites attached to plants and injected their venom into the root structures, causing the grape vines to die. In France one of the desperate measures of grape growers was to bury a live toad under each vine to draw out the "poison." This method was unsuccessful.
Riley suggested that the French vintners graft their vulnerable vines to American phylloxera-resistant rootstocks to produce healthy grapes. This was another experiment and French wine makers were initially resistant. With the help of Missouri vintners, thousands of phylloxera-resistant roots were gathered from across the state and shipped to France. Fortunately, the French vintners decided to try grafting the healthy Missouri rootstocks to their vines. "The pestilence brought into Europe by American vines was eradicated by the use of those very same vines, " according to The History Guy. As a result, the French vineyards were saved.
So, Missouri played a significant role in solving the mystery of the Great French Wine Blight and today almost all vines are planted with grafted rootstock to resist phylloxerae.
We should give thanks to Missouri's scientists and vintners for helping to save the French wine industry.
Molière would be pleased.
WANT TO LEARN MORE? HERE’S AN INTERESTNG VIDEO TO WATCH (12:44)
Saving Grapes: The Great Wine Blight. The History Guy – History Deserves to Be Remembered. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SowSuC0jNoI
Is French wine the greatest in the world? Meininger’s Wine Business International. https://www.wine-business-international.com/wine/analysis/french-wine-greatest-world
Missouri Vines Save European Vineyards from Parasites. https://whimsicalwinewoman.com/2017/12/17/missouri-vines-save-french-wine/Phylloxera: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylloxera
Phylloxera: How Missouri saved the French wine industry: https://www.feastmagazine.com/drink/features/article_9f36933e-29c8-11e7-9a7d-effeecb28e31.html
What Was the Great French Wine Blight? https://www.delightedcooking.com/what-was-the-great-french-wine-blight.htm
By Rebecca Smith
The image of the 19th century fur traders in North America (of whom we credit the French contingent with the origins of Kansas City) is one of rugged, fearless, resilient doggedness – the Jeremiah Johnson we know from movies.
An element rarely acknowledged is that of homosexuality within their ranks. William Benemann brings that to light in his historical work, Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade. Max Carocci of the British Museum applauds its focus on “the largely unexplored hidden lives of men living on the fringes of nineteenth-century American society.”
As noted on the book cover, “The American West of the nineteenth century was a world of freedom and adventure for men of every stripe – not least those who admired and desired other men.” The fur trading lifestyle offered its participants “a cultural milieu of openness in which men could pursue same-sex relationships”.
Les Wright, author of The Bear Book, terms what these men enjoyed “a richly Whitmanesque homoerotic life”.
To begin with, they beheld an example among the native peoples they encountered, especially the “berdaches”, gender-bending cross dressers, who lived lives more as women than men. This included accepting sex from males. Berdaches were found among most tribes and were fully accepted. They may even have been venerated for “obeying instructions given them in a vision by their medicines”, according to Bernard de Voto.
In one of his autobiographical novels about his travels, Stewart wrote, “There are youths of this description in every camp, resembling in office the eunuchs of the seraglio”.
In general, the native communities exhibited much more gender tolerance. As well as cross dressing, there were homosexuals, transvestites, hermaphrodites, and all manner of gender-fluid roles.
Enhancing the cultural phenomenon of the berdaches was the perceived beauty of the native American braves. Early nineteenth century writers, upon first encountering the semi-naked Plains Indians, often compared them to Adonis or to Apollo Belvedere figures. James Fenmore Cooper certainly glorified their mystique and Edwin Thompson Denig described them thus, “They are tall, straight, well formed, with bold, fierce eyes, and as usual good teeth. These also dress elegantly and expensively.”
The artist Alfred Jacob Miller, who joined a few expeditions and is famous for the scenes he painted memorializing them, summarized it most emphatically, “American sculptors travel thousands of miles to study Greek statues in the Vatican at Rome, seemingly unaware that in their own country there exists a race of men equal in form and grace (if not superior) to the finest beau ideal ever dreamed of by the Greeks.”
Experiencing this beauty and freedom, the traders felt liberated themselves to dress flamboyantly, unfettered by societal norms. Hiram Chittenden wrote that “they were prone to all sorts of excesses. Vain of their appearances, extravagantly fond of ornament for both themselves and their steeds, they rivaled the proud Indian himself in the profusion of gewgaws which decked out their attire.” He was particularly stricken with the bare thighs and hips he witnessed. One minister who accompanied one of the groups simply stated, “I should leave your imagination to supply the picture.” Washington Irving, too, was impressed, “Here the free trappers were in all their glory; they considered themselves the ‘cocks of the walk’ and always carried the highest crests.”
Such behavior would have been considered unseemly to the highest degree in most of the country but the isolation and male-dominated endeavors of the trappers allowed them to exercise it with free will. A fur trader setting off knew to expect almost total male companionship. He knew he would be living in the wilderness, far from society’s eyes. Traders often lived in camps, often divided into two lifestyles – the hunting and care of horses for half of the men and the care and comfort of the homesite for the other half (often the younger members were responsible for the typically more women-oriented duties). Such conditions, similar in some ways to prison, was a breeding ground for same-sex unions.
A visiting British diplomat was said to have asked Albert Gallatin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury at the time how the frontiersmen survived without women. Gallatin responded that “the Grecian Vice was common among the Indians as well as the back woodsmen”.
Before dying out (said to be when silk hats replaced beaver ones in Europe) the fur trading industry of the 1800s played an important role in the development of the West. It was a bold and colorful period of legendary figures and dramatic events, of the meeting and clash of cultures and the constant discovery of the never before experienced. Its characters left legacies – ones we may never fully understand.
Benemann offers one decidedly playful insight, “Their direct descendants are the contemporary communities of gay or bisexual men known as bears – hirsute and heavy-set males whose denim and flannel may be set off with a single dangling earring.”
Men in Eden
William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade
By William Benemann
The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska, 2012
By Chantal Roberts
Three hundred six years ago on September 1, le Roi Soleil died, but as with everything Louis XIV touched, his influence endures.
In 1665, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, France’s finance minister quipped, “Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain.” Colbert, as Louis’ comptroller, established the French fashion industry by organizing a systems of trade guilds and unions. Louis stated that no woman should be admitted to les Maîtresses marchandes lingères unless she professed to be an Apostolic, Roman, Catholic. This guild was one of three open to women during this time. The guild was for female linen seamstresses and hemp merchants; the maîtresses couturières were also seamstresses who had permission to make clothes for women and children—except for noble women, whose expensive dresses were made by male tailors.
Louis, with his business-like mind, forbade nobles from importing anything that could be made in France. It is rumored he made the Dauphin burn his coat because it was made of foreign cloth.
One of the most successful improvements established by the Versailles Court was to dictate that new fabrics be released twice a year. The obsolescence of textiles encouraged the nobles, who were eager to show off their wealth, to buy more. The summer, or été, fashion season began on Pentecost (usually mid- to late-May); the winter, or hiver, season began on All Saints Day, November 1.
Jean de La Bruyère, a writer during the time, noted, “Scarcely had one fashion usurped the place of another when it was succeeded by a third, which in its turn was replaced by some still newer fashion, not by any means the last.”
Dressing was an arduous task requiring several servants or ladies-in-waiting. The public dressing of the nobles began with Louis and his mother, Anne of Austria. Most women had a pre-dressing event before the actual levée, which was more theatre with props of gold or silver toilette sets, perfumes, and cosmetics.
The dressing consisted of the chemise, white, which was changed several times a day in order to keep fresh and by decree of Louis in another attempt to keep the nobles in debt by having to wear several different clothes in one day. On top of the chemise were the stays, laced up, and then the bum roll to help with the petticoats (skirt) then the bodice.
Women’s dress was off the shoulder with a bit of the chemise peeking out in order to show how rich the woman was due to how white the chemise was.
Hair was flat against the crown, pulled back into a low bun with cascading curls encircling the face. Of course, Louis was not able to control everything. Women soon began using cages to wrap around their hair so that it was larger and larger along their sides called hurluberlus and paresseuses which were false wigs or long ringlets, called mustaches.
Period costumes are encouraged at Molière’s 400th birthday party, Saturday, January 15, 2022. It is 2pm- 4:30pm at Kirkwood Hall in the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
Discover our newsletters, journals, essays, and criticisms on anything having to do with Molière and France.