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​Architecture and Wine: Medieval Wines & Buildings


The Romans carried winemaking throughout the empire and across Southern European nations from Spain to today’s Romania. For the Romans, wine was more than an elixir, it was a valuable trading commodity and traveled everywhere. The Greeks were the first bearer of wine to France about 600 BC. However, it was the early Christian monks and nuns they were the key to creating the beverage we know today as wine.


Around 360AD a Roman soldier, Martin of Tours, left the army, was baptized, became a hermit and became Europe’s first skilled viticulturist. The Roman legions were skilled at winemaking, so he transferred his knowledge and curiosity to planting the first Vouray vineyards. Most importantly, Saint Martin founded France’s first monastery that house up to 2000 monks and ensuring the Roman knowledge of winemaking would survive, flourish and improve during Europe’s darkest ages. Wine was not just used for religious events. After all, Jesus, elevated wine to be his blood, but it was also known to disinfect, long before Antonie Van Leuwenhook’s discovery of micro-organisms in 1675.


The Benedictines grew the monastic power of winemaking throughout France, emphasizing prayer and the study of agricultural practices and labor. We know the monasteries with their Romanesque architecture would become the model for future château’s* and wine making experiences. For 500 years the Benedictines monopolize the wine making and trade. By the 11th century, the Benedictines had grown very wealthy from land holdings and producing agricultural products, so they invested in building towering Gothic basilicas whenever, and wherever they could. One could say wine was the foundation of Notre Dame and countless other Medieval French cathedrals.


It became common to carry the name of the monastery that produced the wine right up until the French Revolution. Today, there are only four monasteries in France making wine.


I’ve often wondered what the early Roman wines tasted like. One such experiment in the Rhône Valley, Mas does Tourelles, has been to re-create the 1st-century Roman country villa, with not only the vineyards but the working conditions including wine cellar cave, press and amphorae for storage. They produce three replica wines: Pliny the Elder, Lucius Columella and Palladius. I’m curious to see if the 2000-year-old blueprints still works.


How French Château‘s contributed to Wine


Château’s generally mean castles, stately homes and palaces but were originally built as private fortifications throughout France, as well as countless castillos in Spain and schloss’ in Germany. As nations settled in and stopped fighting among themselves, French château’s, especially in the Loire Valley became headquarters for winemaking and storage. The Périgord Region is famous for 1500 château’s and winemaking from the 15th century.


The French Revolution finished the monastic monopoly of wine and propelled wine as a elixir for the people, rich and poor. At the same time, the glamour of the château as an environment for wine becomes celebrated. The best examples of the French château- style of wine mystique are:

  • Château d’ Chenonceau

  • Château d’ Chambord

  • Château d’ Azay-le-Rideau

  • Château d’Ussé

  • Château d’ Villandry

  • Château d’ Sailhant

The nineteenth century saw wine and architecture become intertwined in mystique that become legendary, far beyond the palate complexity. To those wine connoisseurs, only good wine could come from French Château’s.


*châteaux for the Francophile


Chris d Craiker, AIA/NCARB

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