A few weeks ago I wrote about the discovery of a unique wine bottle, found on the sea bed of the Stockholm archipelago in the 1940s and was rediscovered in Vin- och Sprithistoriska museet (the Wine and Spirits Historical Museum) collections a couple weeks ago, read more here. Since then, I been reading up a little on Scandinavian wine imports in prehistoric and historic times, read about vindragarna (the wine pullers) and their guild here (in Swedish), and got hold of some information that I present below. This is but a few scattered notes.
An interesting detail that the Groot Constantia bottle tells us is that wine was imported by the bottle. I have previously thought wine to be primarily imported in barrels or the like and then bottled in this country before sale. There are several examples of this, for example in the archaeological record from the neighbourhoods Apeln and Diplomaten in the city Jönköping – where archaeologist found several shards from bottles and bottle seals made in the Björkenäs glass works on Värmdö (1736-1786), outside of Stockholm. Björknäs glass works made bottles for wine and spirits among other things. The excavation was made by Jönköping County museum a few years ago.
Via the Wine and Spirits Historical Museum in Stockholm I got an article by Karen Hjort describing the family Schulin’s wine cellar during the 1700s. The article is based on documents from Frederiksdal castle archives in Denmark. The oldest list is from 1744 and about 50 years older than the bottle found in the Stockholm archipelago. It runs through until 1808. Records show which wines you might expect to find in a bourgeois family in Scandinavia at this time, but also from which countries they imported wine. Johan Sigismund Schulin (1694-1750) had worked in the Executive Board of generalpostamtet (the Post) in Denmark, he was secretary of the German Kancelli etc and finished his career as a contemporary equivalent of foreign minister.
In the first note 504 bottles are quoted: 9 ½ bottles of unfamiliar wine, three samples (a bit unsure of what is meant by sample but it’s not bottles) of Madeira, three samples of Mosel and Rhinsk wine, one Rhone wine, one Burgundy wine and ½ bottle of cherry wine, 83 bottles of English beer and 6 ½ bottle juice. In addition to this there are three oksehoveder (a measure) and 2 ahn and an one anchor rhinsk wine, translated this should be about 700 liters of red wine and 340 liters of Rhine wine. On the list is also mentioned usquebak which is synonymous with whiskey. Among the types of wine are notes of red wines, Pontac, Hermitage, Burgundier, Riinsk wine, French wine, Muscatvin, Samosvin, Mathers, Cote Roti, Constanze, Capvine, Hvid Capvin, Ungarsk wine, Syracuservin, Florentiervin, Peter Semeng etc.
I found this translation table on the measurement oksehoved from 1647 for wine (obviously different dimensions for different products) = 1 ½ Amme = 6 anchor = 240 potter = about 232.5 litres.
A quick glance at these facts shows that there are wines from several regions and countries – many of which still today are among the major regions. Wines from South Africa – the Constanza is there as well – that’s the winery that produced the wine in the bottle found outside of Stockholm. It is mentioned that there is both red and white Contstanz. The white sweet wine was the more famous. In the second half of the 1700s, the Constanz wine, and then the white sweet in particular, became hugely popular among the European aristocracy and was so until the 1880s when wine production in South Africa was hit by phylloxera.
Later on in the documents one can find several other interesting comments such as wines from more other regions, such as Margaux and Médoc, and names of wine merchants, such as Toyon. In total 2799 bottles made its way through the cellar between 1744-1808.
Let’s goback some years in time to the Swedish Middle Ages (1050-1523 AD). In Hans Hildebrands book Sverige Medletiden (Sweden the Middle Ages) it is stated the following on beer and wine; Beer plays the biggest role and can be called the national drink of the time, but wine is also mentioned. The first mention is regarding the funeral of Birger Persson in 1328 AD when three kinds of wine were served; white wine, Rhine wine and red wine from La Rochelle. During the 1500s there are references to wines from Klarethe (Claret, Clairet = Bordeaux), Malmarsey (possibly Italy and wines from grapes Malvasia), from Romani in Spain, Odersberg in Schleisen and from Thorn in Germany. The Wine imports in 1539 were nearly 50 000 litres – compared to Systembolaget’s (the Swedish Monopoloy) sales of wine in 2010 that amounted to 182 471 261 liters (Link in Swedish). In the encyclopedia Medeltidens ABC (the ABC of the Middle Ages), it is said that wine was imported by the aristocracy and the church, the majority of the wine came from Germany. From this book you can also get an idea of the price of wine at 14th century in Sweden. The wine from La Rochelle that were served at the funeral in 1328 costed 12 mark penningar per barrel (ca 150 litres), while the Rhine wine costed about 8 mark penningar per barrel. Compare this with the salary of a craftsman at the time which was about 45 mark penningar/year + food and drink or a farm labourer who earned about one mark penningar money for the summer and half a mark penningar during the winter months at the time. Wine was a luxury product and not for the common man.
The wines are usually shipped in heavy wooden barrels, which made long-distance wine trade in principle only possible through waterways. The long journeys often made the delicate wine go bad. Because of this it was often seasoned with ginger, cloves and or nutmeg. Another popular combination was Klaret and Rhine wine seasoned with sugar, honey, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves. Then the wine was trickled from the spices, King Gustav Vasa’s (1496-1560 AD) court had it’s own brewer for this, Kilian Vintappare. Another type of spiced wine was Lutendank, a spiced wine mixed with milk (I’m pretty sure I don’t want to taste that!).
There are written sources and archaeological materials that indicate that wine was imported to Scandinavia before the Middle ages. During the Viking Age one can guess that the Vikings came in contact with wine during their journeys to Greece, France and Spain etc, but also through the travels through today’s Russia to the Black Sea and back. When Sweden became Christian during the late Viking Age and the early Middle Ages the wine import became institutionalized as the Church needed wine for communion.
The history of wine begins, however, long before this – the oldest traces have been dated to about 6000 BC. It is believed that the oldest wines were red and the white wines were added later. An early exampel of white wine is that found in amphoraes in Tutankhamen (death cirka1339 BC) tomb. As wine became a commodity it had to be transported and sealed. In antiquity they were transported in amphorae, which were sealed with pitch or resin. Sometimes they were provided with a layer of olive oil on top of the wine’s surface, as in the German example below. They also stirred down different spices and sulfur in order to extend the life of the wine. During the Roman Empire they began to store and transport the wine in barrels (wooden barrels) besides the traditional way of amphorae.
That wine was transported in antiquity is obvious – there are plenty of amphorae around the Mediterranean as proof of that. The oldest complete wine bottle with contents is in the Historical Museum of Palatinate in Germany. It is a ca 1600 years old Roman wine bottle with dolphin-shaped handles, dating to 325 AD. It was found in a Roman stone sarcophagus during excavations 1867. Amazingly, there were and still is some liquid remaining in it, two thirds is viscous and probably some kind of olive oil poured in for preservative reasons. They have also found traces of honey. Underneath this was residues of wine. The contents were analysed in 1916 by senior inspector Schmidt and Professor Halenke. The result showed that it most likely contained wine together with olive oil. Further analysis was done in1934 and 1937/1938 by Professor Grüß and Professor von Stockmann in Berlin. Their findings were never published and was lost, unfortunately, during World War II. The museum’s former director, Dr. Karl Schulz wrote in the 50’s that during the analysis they found scent of aromatic wine. The taste is unknown – no one has tasted the wine. There are currently no plans for new analysis.
The wine bottle can be seen in the “Weinmuseum” as part of the permanent exhibition at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer. The image is reproduced with the authorization of the museum.
A big thanks goes to the Historisches Museum der Pfalz for information and accessrights to the image.
Hjort, Karen 2003. En fornem vinlaelder. Siden Saxo 2003:01. Danmark
Hildebrand, Hans (1983 nytryck). Sveriges Medeltid, del 2, Städerna.
Claes Pettersson, Jönköpings läns museum
Ludger Tekampe, Historisches Museum der Pfalz