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About Wine Literature of the World

 

 

The State Library of South Australia has the largest collection of wine literature in the southern hemisphere and one of the biggest in the world. Its origins date back to 1834, two years before the first European settlers arrived in the colony. The collection ranges from an eleventh century manuscript leaf to recently published books and magazines, to wine labels, wine lists and diaries of winemakers, and to books in many languages. This theme features twelve of the State Library’s most precious wine records.

Punishments for drunk monks 1000 years ago

Decretum. By Burchard of Worms Germany, first half of the eleventh century.

This is part of a manuscript leaf from a manual for the instruction and guidance of young monks, written in a German monastery a thousand years ago. The language is Latin and the script Carolingian, on which is based some of the most beautiful printing types still in use today. It contains punishments for drunk monks - fifteen days on bread and water if one drank so much that one vomited; thirty days on bread and water if one, when drunk, encouraged others to get drunk; and forty days on bread and water if, through drunkenness, one vomited the communion wine and sacred host.

Wine in the classical world and a classic of printing

Pliny’s Natural history. Venice 1472.

The Library’s oldest original printed book with winegrowing references is this remarkable encyclopaedia of the ancient world, which was the major source for most mediaeval knowledge. Printed in Venice in 1472 by the influential type designer, printer, and publisher, Nicolaus Jenson, some 17 years after the first book was printed in Europe from moveable type, this most handsome volume is full of information on wine-growing in ancient times.

For those who cannot read Latin, the following is a translation.

Pliny’s Natural history London: Bohn, 1855-1857, vol.3


Wine and prayer

Book of hours. Paris, 1490.

Books of Hours were the personal prayerbooks of the laity and have been described as "late mediaeval best-sellers". Those produced by hand during the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance were often elaborately decorated, and might include beautiful miniature pictures depicting the occupation for each month of the calendar year: the occupation usually chosen for March was ploughing and pruning and for September treading the grapes.

Book of Hours. Paris, 1490. This exquisitely illustrated work was written and decorated by hand on vellum in Paris in about 1490. Among its brilliantly coloured miniatures is one for September, which shows a person treading grapes. In addition to the treader and someone pouring grapes from a basket into a vat, a worker in the background enjoys a surreptitious tipple, adding a humorous touch. It is on permanent loan to the State Library of South Australia from the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide.

Les trés riches heures du Duc de Berry, Musée Condé, Chantilly. London: Thames & Hudson, 1969.

The vivid and richly detailed miniatures, which appeared in the calendar of the Trés riches heures du Duc de Berry, were begun early and finished late in the fifteenth century for Jean, Duc de Berry. The miniature for March shows three peasants trimming vines within an enclosure, with more vineyards on the right. For September, we see the grape harvest at the foot of the Château de Saumur. The original book is in the collection of the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

First edition of the first wine book Vinetum, by Charles Estienne. Paris, 1537

Although Arnaldus de Villanova’s Liber de vinis, published in 1478, is often said to be the earliest printed book on wine, it dealt mainly with the supposed physical effects of wine, and its perceived ability to cure poor memory, jaundice or melancholy, rather than with winegrowing.

The earliest book devoted to grapegrowing and winemaking was Vinetum, by Charles Estienne, first published in Paris in 1537 and republished many times. Written in Latin, surprisingly this landmark book has not been translated into English. It includes a table of French wines and wine regions, with their Latin and French names, some of which – Beaune, Beaujolais, Champagne, Bordeaux – are clearly identifiable.

The four wondrous properties of wine and their effects

Die vier Wunderberlichen Eygenschafft und Wurckung des Weins…, by Hans Sachs.
Nuremberg : Georg Merckel, 1553.

This very scarce pamphlet describes "the four wondrous properties of wine and their effects". The opening paragraph, here translated by Professor Ralph Elliott, gives an indication of the tenor of this entertaining work:

One day I asked a doctor to tell me whence derives the power of wine to affect in four different ways whomever it overcomes so that his mood changes. The first he makes peaceful, benevolent, mild and kind. Others he arouses to anger, so that they storm and quarrel and rage. The third he makes crudely childish and shameless, while the fourth is led by the wine to fantasies and follies.

He said, I will tell you. The wise pagans describe how after the Flood had passed, Lord Noah began to plant vines before anything else. But the soil was unfruitful, so old Noah cleverly fertilized it with manure which he took from different animals, namely sheep, bears, pigs, and monkeys. With this he manured his vineyard all over, and when the wine was ready it had acquired the natures of the four animals, properties which it still possesses. Now God made all men of four elements, air, fire, water, and earth, as Philosophy confirms, and according to each man’s nature, so does wine affect him.

Hans Sachs, who died in Nuremberg in 1576, was a member of the Meistersinger Guild, and the subject of Wagner’s opera, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.

Wine cures gout

The juice of the grape, by Dr. Peter Shaw. London 1724.

Shaw, a London physician, and an early advocate of the medicinal benefits of wine,  claims that wine cures everything from smallpox to venereal disease, including gout. This copy, beautifully bound with its spine and corners in calfskin, comes from the library of the great twentieth-century wine writer, André Simon, and contains his elegant bookplate. Simon found the work "very amusing".

Finding words to convey flavours

The history of ancient and modern wines, by Alexander Henderson. London, 1824.

This is probably the first book in the English language to give anything like an accurate account, based on some personal travelling, of the wines of Europe and also of Persia and the Cape of Good Hope. Henderson, a doctor, describes a problem common to today’s wine writers and consumers – how to find words to convey flavours. Many of his observations on "modern wines" are still valid.


Grapes have family histories, too

Ampélographie française, by Victor Rendu. Paris, 1857

Ampelographies describe and often illustrate grape varieties. The hand-coloured lithographs of Eugene Grobon make this book possibly the most prized of the great ampelographies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

A fête worth waiting for

Album officiel de la Fête des Vignerons. Paris, 1889

One of a rare and spectacular series of works describing and illustrating the Fêtes of the Vignerons of Vevey, which have been held in the Swiss town of Vevey irregularly since the mid-seventeenth century. They are now held roughly once in a generation. It is the world’s most important wine festival, and is a development of the activities of the mediaeval Wine-Growers’ Guild. Each fête generates a number of sought-after publications including a fold-out album, or leporello, which could be up to seven metres long. Vevey is on Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Montreux. Chasselas is the main grape variety grown, producing a dry, robust white wine.

Australia's first wine book

A treatise on the culture of the vine and the art of making wine, by James Busby. Sydney, 1825

Australia’s first wine book was written a year after its 24-year old author arrived in New South Wales. Based on the ideas of French writers it was intended to show "the respectable portion of the community" how to produce wine and thus to give value to tracts of land which otherwise "would in all probability remain for ever useless". But Busby also regarded viticulture as fitted "to increase the comforts, and promote the morality of the lower classes of the Colony" – a theme which persists through much of Australia’s nineteenth-century oenography. Busby also predicted that wine would supply "the great desideratum of a staple article of export, to which the colonists of New South Wales might be indebted for their future prosperity". He is known as the father of Australian viticulture.

Leo Buring's journal

Leo Buring’s journal of a visit to the vineyards and cellars of Germany and France in 1896.

Buring spent time at Schloss Johanissberg and at Geisenheim on the Rhine: the world-famous wine school at Geisenheim had been founded in 1872. Buring’s unpublished notes, some in English, others in French, are full of practical details, as well as occasional impressions of wines tasted.

Valmai Hankel

Valmai Hankel was Senior Rare Books Librarian at the State Library of South Australia until she retired in June 2001, and has a particular interest in the literature of wine and its history. She even coined a word, ‘Oenotypophily’, which she takes to mean "love of wine and print" to describe this obsession.

She has been wine writer for the monthly publication, The Adelaide Review, since October 1995, writes a column on wine history for the national magazine, Winestate, and has inaugurated an occasional column, "Oenotypophily", for the magazine The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal. She firmly believes that wine books from the past have much that is both relevant and entertaining to say to us today, and spends a fair bit of time in both writing and public speaking trying to convince others of this. The pamphlet, Oenography: words on wine in the State Library of South Australia, is believed to be the first publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics not to contain a single statistic.

As well as drinking more good wine than she should, she has been an associate judge at South Australia’s McLaren Vale Wine Show on three occasions, and was chairman of the consumer panel for the Advertiser-Hyatt South Australian Wine of the Year Award for five years.