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Napoléon's Beef with Belgian Wine

Napoléon's Beef with Belgian Wine
How our tastes are determined by history

The destruction of vineyards, particularly in Europe, is a well-documented effect of war. However, one theory speculates that an act of war was once responsible for the destruction of an entire wine-growing region.

Wijnkasteel Geneols-Elderen

“Waterloo! promise to love you for ever more…”

The Battle of Waterloo in 1815, marking the end of the Napoleonic Wars, was fought in modern-day Belgium. Napoléon escaped from exile, assembled troops, and invaded the country (which was, until 1839, part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands).

He’s said to have spent his first night near the Biercée distillery, the maker of Mandarine Napoléon, an orange cognac created for the Emperor in the late 1700s. It’s a liqueur that’s still produced today.


Wijnkasteel Geneols-Elderen cellar

Napoleon’s appetite for foreign wine

So, it’s clear that Napoléon had tolerated cognac production outside of France. As for wine, however, there’s evidence that heavy tariffs were placed on all non-French bottles within the empire. Production in Northern Italy seems to have suffered the most as a result of this practice.

Back in Belgium, but before Waterloo, it’s thought that Napoléon took things one step further; he uprooted existing vineyards and made laws strictly forbidding the production of wine in the neighboring country.


Before and After Napoleon

We know that there were vineyards in Belgium prior to Napoléon. In fact, monastic wine production in the area is thought to pre-date the tradition of Belgian beer. Even so, winemaking didn’t make a comeback in Belgium until the end of the 20th century.

If true, the Little Corporal’s plan seems to have been successful; French wines have dominated for the past 200 years, with Belgium firmly relegated to the status of a beer-producing nation.

That said, a number of factors (primarily weather and technique) now point to the revival of winemaking in northern Europe. Belgium is back, whether Napoléon likes it or not.


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