The history of the Belgian vineyard compiled by a Rançois, in 304 pages

The history of the Belgian vineyard compiled by a Rançois, in 304 pages
The history of the Belgian vineyard compiled by a Rançois, in 304 pages

Marc De Brouwer has lived in Rance for two years. And when he settled there with his wife, he wasted no time planting 170 vines, of 8 or 9 different grape varieties because, for him, viticulture is a passion.

Already the author of a winemaking treatise renowned among fruit wine producers, he has just published a thick volume tracing the history of Belgian vineyards, the first work of its kind since… 1895.

“I’m a naughty curious person, I always want to know more when I touch on something”he explains.

Passionate about winemaking, he tested his first grape wines at the end of the 1970s in Solre-Saint-Géry, thanks to good harvests with his wife’s grandparents.

Over the years, he strengthened his knowledge and began research into the history of Belgian vines: “But there are very few. Or very old documents.” His work proved more fruitful with the arrival of the Internet. He created the site www.vignes.be and continued his investigations, notably by taking advantage of a documentation collection from Marc Vanel and the digitization of 19th century newspapers.

In 2022, he begins writing his work “Belgium, country of wines, vines and vineyards, yesterday and today”.

The work has just been unveiled during a meeting set in the middle of a vineyard in its commune, that of Wolf guard.

No, the vine does not come from the Romans

He decided to begin this history of Belgian viticulture by brushing aside a few false truths, first and foremost the one which claims that the first vine was planted here by the Romans. Did she appear to Amay? Did it disappear following the Treaty of the Pyrenees, a volcanic eruption or because of competition from French wines? Nothing of the sort.

From chapter 2, he takes up the elements which allowed the cultivation of vines in our latitudes then returns at length to the regions where the grapes were produced. “To do this, I noted as many traces of this culture as possible, whether in family names, in toponymy or even in articles or documents.”

He notes all its mentions, province by province, village by village.

We find the first mentions of Belgian viticulture in Ghent in 815 and in Liège in 830. Charlemagne enjoined the Church of “fecit ecclesias and plantavit vineas”that is to say, building and planting vines.

We then find a vineyard in Namur in 987, six mentions along the Meuse and in Limburg in the following century, seven in the 12th century.

It is the beginning of a boom for our winegrower ancestors, with around forty mentions in the 13th century, more than a hundred in the 14th, while the author designates the period from 1440 to 1470 as the golden age. of our viticulture. We then found vines everywhere in the territory of present-day Belgium.

In the 16th century, the Dukes of Burgundy encouraged the activity while we observed the first disappearances of vines. “This is why we find a lot of them around Leuven, where the banks of the Demer are favorable for growing grapes. Then it’s in decline, except in the Liège Meuse.”

In the 19th century, attempts were made to rebuild vineyards in Profondeville and Louvain. “But all these vines are disappearing, except those of Tongerloo Abbey, which seem to be the only ones to survive the 20th century.”

A revival of viticulture

The contemporary growth of viticulture began in the 1970s with a few amateur pioneers who cultivated hybrid grape varieties.

It is again in Leuven that the first commercial vines are planted. From around thirty mentions in 1960, we reached around a hundred in 1990, 200 in 2000 and 300 in 2010. It’s madness. We plant everywhere.

“I had thought of presenting my book in a prestigious vineyard in Wallonia, but I did it at Garde loup, here in Sivry, he explains to us, because our region is booming in wine production. This is where Alain Boschman plans to plant 8 additional hectares this year.”

This new lease of life in Belgian viticulture is encouraged by the decline of our climate: “Climatologists think that we will reach the climate of Champagne in around twenty years, then that of Burgundy thereafter. Everything will evolve in the grape varieties, where we will be able to leave the early varieties. Some are already trying to plant Syrah and Merlot.”

Due to a lack of available land, Flanders, until recently, was predominantly wine-producing (notably thanks to greenhouse viticulture, to which a chapter is devoted) is today overtaken by Wallonia, which hosts 90% of Belgian winegrowers.

Belgium, “land of wines, vines and vineyards”is once again a reality, the history of which is now compiled in a detailed and very well-documented work.

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304 pages, €29.50. www.vignes.be [email protected] 0472/719 790

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