From the collapse of the (western) Roman Empire in the fifth century to the emergence of the Carolingian Empire about three hundred years later, wine its overall production, distribution, and actual cultivation as well as the assorted culture-related functions it fulfilled entered into one the most important transitory periods of its history. The end result was that, by the time of the Carolingian period under Charlemagne (r. 768-814), wine as an institution came in large part under the influence or control of the expanding monastic orders of (central and western) Europe.
For all intents and purposes, the monastic orders of the Early Middle Ages specifically around the time of Charlemagne played an essential role in the general institution of wine and its many attributes. In terms of economics, monasteries being among the only institutional bodies with enough capital and human resources to conduct genuinely large enterprises held an (ever-increasing) monopoly on vineyard ownership, production, and wine distribution. Their operations were heavily influenced by Charlemagne himself, who actively encouraged winemaking among monastic orders; at the same time, monasteries were the most heavily engaged bodies in actual cultivation as well as in the development of viticultural techniques. It was furthermore during the time of Charlemagnes rule as well as under his guidance that various doctrines toward wine, specifically pertaining to such culturally-related aspects as religion and societal norms, were promulgated by monasteries throughout much of (central and western) Europe. Indeed, as shall be demonstrated in this paper, monastic orders around the time of Charlemagne had a fundamental impact on the institution of wine.
Prior to the emergence of the Carolingians in the mid-eighth century, little is actually known in concrete terms of the concise manners by which monastic orders came to control most of the vineyards and wine production of the former (western) Roman Empire. This is not surprising, for the instability brought on by the end of Roman domination is said to have heavily affected viticultural production and the trade of wine.
For many modern wine historians, if it were not for the Christian monasteries and a good number of industrious monks, the inaccurately-termed Dark Ages would have spelt the elimination of viticulture in Europe altogether. Though this is increasingly seen as an overt exaggeration by the more learned wine experts, such an assessment is not without foundation, especially when considering the fact that, for around twelve centuries following the collapse of Roman domination, the largest and best vineyards in Europe came on an ever-increasing scale to be operated by monks. On the whole however, it was not until the emergence of the Carolingian Empire in the mid-eighth century that the institution of wine truly began to rebound. By then, the monasteries had firmly established themselves as the inheritors of the vineyards and the masters of production and distribution.
Logically, the size of the vineyard(s) a monastic order held was probably determined by the total area of land it owned altogether; some of these landholdings were quite substantial. In 814 for example, the abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés (located near Paris) was in the possession of twenty-thousand hectares of cultivable land, about four hundred of which were planted with vines. These vineyards however did not make up one single estate; quite the contrary, the accounts of this abbey the so-called Roll of Abbot Irminion suggests that vineyards owned by this particular monastery were fairly widespread, ranging from such localities as Rambouillet and Fontainebleau to Dreux, Sceaux, and Versailles. Along with St-Germain-des-Prés in the early-ninth century was the abbey at Saint Denis (also located just outside Paris), which owned a whole string of wine-growing estates in the Île de France. In Burgundy, the largest vineyard the Clos de Vougeot belonged to the Cistercians. Situated in part on the now-famous Corton hill, it was given to the Cistercian abbey of Saulieu by Charlemagne; today, the wines produced from vines of the Corton are greatly sought after, bottled under the designated appellation Corton-Charlemagne. While these monastic vineyards were probably much larger than those owned by the majority of religious orders, they nonetheless serve to illustrate how most monasteries were capable of producing sizeable volumes of wine.
Monastic orders were heavily responsible for the planting of vines in a large number of areas, thus fostering a great deal of production. They sponsored the growth of vineyards in several regions that are now in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. By the ninth century, much of the land in Lombardy for instance was used for the planting and care of vineyards. As might be expected, there were certain incentives or motives for monastic orders to plant vineyards. Though many of Europes vineyards were owned by monastic foundations, they were largely cultivated by both monks and peasants particularly the latter. During the Early Middle Ages and beyond, many villages throughout Europe were clustered near abbeys. Therefore, in sponsoring and encouraging the spread of viticulture among the peasants of these villages, an abbey was able to collect a larger tithe from its parishioners. It was also recognized that the tithe of a peasants hay-crop was not worth nearly as much as a tithe of his wine grapes, the latter of which could easily be converted into cash; monasteries therefore gave villages every encouragement to plant vineyards, from offering technical help with terracing to granting celestial privileges. Monks also encouraged viticultural production by providing shoots of vines to peasants, as well as by teaching them cultivation and pruning techniques.
On the whole, (quality) viticulture was and still is to this day quite labor-intensive, which thus required the labor of many peasants. Since there were undoubtedly not nearly enough monks to manage all the vineyards that their abbey owned, peasants played a particularly important role in the production of wine from monastic vineyards. In a Carolingian monasterys manor roll, it is made clear that they (peasants) held crucial viticultural responsibilities: They [the peasants] owe carting duty for wine or grain, and work on the garden enclosure. They owe 15 days at grape-gathering time, and they [have to] do manual work at the wine-press, whether that of a monastery or of some other place. By having the right to demand labor and services from the dependent peasantry, ecclesiastical institutions were able to ensure the continuity of planting and production.
Under the aforementioned circumstances, it is not surprising that most alcoholic beverages particularly beer and wine in the Early Middle Ages were produced and consumed locally. Even during the glorious reign of Charlemagne, trade routes and communications still existed on a very poor level, to the extent that almost everyone was dependent on local vintages. All the same though, there is evidence to suggest that an (albeit fragmented) trading network for wine did in fact exist on a notably impressive and far-reaching scope. During this period of European history, monasteries and towns were rapidly being established, and the inhabitants of each required wine to drink; in addition to northern France, wine was also needed as far away as Britain and Ireland by the Frisians. Clearly, the demand for wine during the Carolingian period was considerably far-reaching.
By and large, it was the monastic orders that managed the distribution or trade of wine during the rule of Charlemagne. To satisfy the growing market for wine, many abbeys sold the surpluses from their vineyards on the markets far and wide. The tenants (monks) of St-Germain-des-Prés acted as carriers of the wine produced from their vineyards to such places as Angers, Blois, Orléans, Troyes, and Quentovic; it is also known that at the end of the eighth century, they were exempt from tolls at Amiens, Duurstede, and Maastricht. Evidently, wine must have been considered an essential enough transport item (though most likely in the dietary sense) to merit exemption from customs duties. Wine was also sold in great quantities during the Carolingian period at the fairs organized by the monks of Saint Denis; it was transported in jars made around the vicinity of Cologne, examples of which have been recovered in enormous numbers by excavations at London, Canterbury, Winchester, and Scandinavia. Truly, as monasteries were among the only institutional bodies with enough capital and human resources to conduct genuinely large enterprises, they held a virtual monopoly on vineyard ownership, production, and wine distribution.
As mentioned in the beginning, Charlemagne was very much concerned with the spread of viticulture and the actual process of making wine; legend has it that he even ordered the planting of the first vines in the now-famous Rhine district. Connected with this fascinating fable is the even more remarkable tale of how Charlemagne, on observing the sun when it shinned against the Rhine River realized that vineyards planted on the sides of the river produced better wine.
Historically speaking, it was during the period of the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagnes rule that the history of German wine in particular can be examined with greater confidence. Many of his capitularies (law codes, specifically those relating to landholding) contain instructions addressed to his officials to plant vines as well as demands for renders of saplings. However, it is less well known that Charlemagne also laid down strict laws concerning hygiene in winemaking, including the revolutionary (though utterly unenforceable) decree that grapes should not be trodden on by foot wine historians to this day are still at odds over exactly what instrument was supposed to be used as a supplement. He also banned the storage of wine in animal skins, and gave winegrowers the option to hang out a green branch in front of their establishments (for promotional awareness), as well as to sell their wine to all comers. Judging by these manners, it is definitely probable that Charlemagne had a fundamental impact on the viticultural operations of monastic orders. After all, it was during his rule that monasteries themselves came to have a tremendous effect on actual winegrowing and viticultural techniques.
Throughout the Early Middle Ages (particularly around the time of Charlemagne), monastic orders were among the few institutions who had the stability, security, and economic resources to conduct large-scale viticulture and thus (possibly) improve the quality of their wines. As a sign of confirmation, most of the evidence concerning viticulture during this period can be found in the writings of ecclesiastics, in charters, and in the details of lands held by churches and monastic orders. The actual survival of this evidence strongly suggests that the monasteries must have played a dominant role in viticulture; all the same, such a deduction ought to be viewed with a fair degree of caution, since it was mainly monks and clerics in particular who retained the skill of writing peasant winemakers of this period have regrettably left no written records of their activities.
In any event, it was almost certainly the determination of the monks themselves that fostered the actual progression of winemaking and the improvement of viticultural techniques during the reign of Charlemagne. Almost every abbey throughout Europe cultivated the grape if it was at all possible, regardless of the obstacles they faced, such as poor soil and/or climate; though living a generation or so before Charlemagne, the very-late-antique scholar Bede (c. 6672-735) reports that vines were even grown in Ireland. In the typical instance of the Rhineland, the Romans had acclimatized the vine; in Carolingian times, its area under cultivation increased rapidly on royal and ecclesiastical domains. By the ninth century, vineyards were spread throughout all the provinces of Worms and Speyer, extending gradually into the Rheingau, then further afield into such comparatively unfavorable regions as Swabia, Franconia, and Thuringia. Outside of Germany were remarkable developments of viticulture in the marshes and gravelly regions of Bordelais, as well as along the banks of the Lot, Oise, Seine, Yonne, and Moselle; barrels were sent by way of the rivers to the great agricultural markets of Bordeaux, Compiègne, Laon, Paris, Auxerre, and Cologne. Such were the regions of central and western Europe during the time of Charlemagne where monks arguably made the greatest progress in winemaking and viticultural practices.
To be certain, one of the most basic commonalities to all areas under viticulture in the Early Middle Ages was that only large estates such as monasteries (with the possible exception of the more affluent noble families) could afford to own wine presses, which were massive pieces of capital equipment often constructed of the biggest trees from nearby forests. Hence, being among the only institutions actually capable of producing wine also meant that monks were in a position to perfect the said beverage or more accurately at least produce better results. Even more important to the equation was how monastic orders, functioning (among other things) as institutions of continuous learning, operated as (sort-of) repository centres for technical development and improvement in viticulture. In this capacity, monasteries are supposed to have played an essential role in the promotion of (scientific) viticulture.
Motivationally, it has been suggested that the monks intent on doing all to the glory of God served as a principle form of encouragement for the advancement of viticultural practices and the promotion of higher standards of quality. While overly general and presumptuous as a conception, such a notion is not without its merits. In Germany for instance, wine historians have generally recognized the highly devotional and extraordinarily hardworking Cistercian monks as being the ones largely responsible for the perfecting of German viticulture, indicating that veneration to God might have perhaps played a significant role in the advancement of viticulture after all.
Regardless of the case, the reign of Charlemagne did in fact coincide with a new period of improved viticultural techniques and standards. During his rule, monastic vineyard practices began to acquire some of the characteristics which later placed them at the forefront of European viticulture, as better and more suitable grape varieties were introduced and finer vinicultural techniques were developed. It was around this period that certain monasteries developed the predecessors of modern grape varietals as well as even experimented with the ancestors of the todays best liqueurs and brandies. Typical vineyards contained mixed grapes of both the red and white varieties, although in the Early Middle Ages white wine was viewed as superior to its darker counterpart (especially in northern vineyards); in most cases however, the color of a wine was considered secondary to (presumably) its actual taste most ordinary wine was either pale red (claret in French) or pink-tinged white. In order to give wines a finer color and better clarity, red wines were fined with egg-whites and white wines with isinglass, though sometimes blood or milk was also added. Hopefully, this at least satisfied the peoples of the romance countries (present-day Italy, Spain, and France), who were said to have normally drunk light wine.
Of course it must also be remembered that there probably existed during the Carolingian period an abundance of monastic wines which were horrifically dreadful by modern standards. The wine produced by the abbey of Saint Wandrille in Normandy (today part ruined but still inhabited by Benedictines) for instance was considered the quintessence of offensiveness. However, monks had beehives, orchards, and herb gardens to supply the necessary additives that could (at least hopefully) make the sourest vintages at least reasonably palatable. Inferior wine was turned into vinegar, while grapes from which it was not possible to make wine were a useful crop in themselves.
Back to the positive side of the spectrum, several leaps forward were in truth made during the time of Charlemagne, particularly in German vineyards. In Germany, the majority of monastic orders decided to make white wine primarily; the finest were stored in separate cellars that came to be known as Kabinett. Today, wines under this designation are recognized for their superior quality and can fetch fairly high prices. It was also during the period of Charlemagne that the family of one German count known as the Cats Elbow had been credited with creating or introducing the Riesling varietal, today the most famous and prominent grape of Germany; though impossible to confirm, it was most likely first cultivated in monastic vineyards, for the counts statue is located in a Cistercian monastery. At any rate, aside from existing as the most heavily engaged institutions in winemaking, it is clear that monastic orders along with the assistance of Charlemagne had made remarkable progress in viticulture around the time of the said individuals rule.
Having examined the monastic orders influence on the institution of wine in terms of economics and actual cultivation, a careful examination of the ways they served to effect wine in cultural matters is now in order. On the whole, it was during the time of Charlemagnes rule as well as under his own assistance that various doctrines toward wine pertaining to such culture-related functions as religion along with societal attitudes were promulgated by monasteries throughout the greater part of (central and western) Europe. In the very much prominent cultural area of religion, monasteries had a particular interest in seeing to it that their vineyards produced wine which was both quantitatively and qualitatively appropriate, as the clergy required a constant (though presumably modest) supply of wine for communion. In the Early Middle Ages, it must also be remembered that every male and female communicated in both kinds that is, by receiving the bread and the wine three times of year, in addition to receiving supplementary unconsecrated wine after Mass every Sunday and feast day; it ought also be kept in mind that priests themselves communicated every day, thus requiring a continual supply of wine. Now because during the Carolingian period especially around the time of Charlemagne coincided with a significant rise in the establishment of monastic orders, the need for wine in religious ceremonies probably increased dramatically; this no doubt had (at least) a noticeable effect on the quantity and quality of wine being produced.
Beyond ceremonial purposes, religious functionaries themselves from monks to abbots were notorious consumers of immoderate quantities of wine for their own pleasure. Legend even tells of an Abbot of Angers in the ninth century who became so saturated with local wine that it preserved his body after death. Outrageous examples such as this one mentioned led to the gathering of numerous ecclesiastical councils organized largely by Charlemagne where an assortment of decrees designed to curtail the abuse of wine and other forms of alcohol were promulgated.
For his part, Saint Benedict (c. 480-547) had carefully regulated the number of clerical members allowed to join each the monasteries he established. By the Carolingian period however, as monasteries became more involved in missionary work, monks (in particular) came to be admitted to monastic orders in very large numbers. Even in his day, Benedict had recognized that not all of these newcomers to the holy life would have possessed the necessary willpower to abstain from wine (or alcohol) entirely; he thus permitted a daily allotment to such individuals: Nevertheless, keeping in view the needs of weaker brethren, we believe that a hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each. But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain should know that they will receive a special reward. He went on to state: We read, it is true, that wine is by no means a drink for monks; but since the monks of our day cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree to drink sparingly and not to satiety, because wine makes even the wise fall away.
In general, it appears quite obvious that Benedict concerning his rules and advice concerning the consumption of wine had drawn heavily the teachings of Jesus Christ. Brought up in the Jewish faith, Christ had been taught to use wine sparingly and often; in other words, he was instructed to drink moderately but not infrequently. In the Gospel, Christ was very critical of those who drank excessively: And take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness and cares of this life and so that day come upon you unawares (Luke 21:34). In another instance, the Gospel of Matthew warns of the punishment to be meted out to evil stewards who abuse their position and live a riotous and drunken life: . and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not and in hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:45-51).
As devout scholars of Scripture, members of monastic orders were undoubtedly fully aware that Christ viewed drunkenness with great distaste. And yet despite the stated warnings against drunkenness in the Gospel and the seemingly amicable supplications made by Benedict on moderation (who drew much of his inspiration from works studiously examined and held in reverence by monastic orders themselves), many monks and their higher-positioned brethren still continued to consume gluttonous amounts of wine. Under these circumstances, it came to be widely recognized by the time of Charlemagnes rule that the horrid excessiveness of wine consumption (and other alcoholic substances) in monastic orders had to be formally addressed.
According to the Carolingian scholar Einhard (c. 770-840) in his Life of Charles the Great, Charlemagne was supposed to have been a very moderate drinker who generally despised drunkenness: Charles [Charlemagne] was temperate in eating, and particularly so in drinking, for he abominated drunkenness in anybody, much more in himself and those of his household. Being of such a staunch mindset, it is not surprising that Charlemagne took an active role in the curbing of excessive drinking amongst monastic institutions. Under his guidance, a number of Church councils and Carolingian capitularies came to denounce excessive drinking interestingly, most of these assembles took place in conjunction with the Carolingian Renaissance. The Council of Mayence (Mainz) in 813 held by Charlemagne to restore Church discipline banned priests and monks on penalty of excommunication if found guilty of engaging in gluttony and inebriety, the latter of which was considered the most deplorable of all vices.
Aside from taking into account what has already been stated, it is additionally very much essential to realize that monastic orders during the time of Charlemagne represented only one sector of the population that engaged in excessive consumption. Not that similar from today, drinking alcohol (beer as well as wine) was integral in both Germanic and French culture, particularly with regard to the former; such important decisions as electing new leaders and deciding on matters of war, peace, and marriage were all generally made during banquets and other occasions that involved communal drinking. Drinking was furthermore a ritual that bonded men together, and the consumption of large amounts of alcohol was seen as a sign of manliness; drinking cups many containing traces of wine or ale have been recovered from graves throughout southern Germany as well as France, indicative of a drinking-based culture.
On the whole, it seems that Charlemagne was fully aware of the need for curbing the inordinate amount of alcohol consumed by the peoples he governed. Aside from recommending sobriety for the general populace, Charlemagne also laid down strict rules to curtail to abuse of wine in the army. He furthermore issued a capitulary forbidding the Funeral Feasts which were traditional among Germanics, his reasoning being that too much drinking occurred at these gatherings, especially when the dead man had been a tribal leader. Though such ordinances must have proved almost impossible to enforce, their enactment nonetheless serves to indicate that Charlemagne took the matter of excessive consumption very seriously. More importantly, Charlemagne no doubt looked toward the monastic orders for support in the enforcement of these edicts, thus placing the latter in a prominent position of setting cultural trends toward wine and other forms of alcohol. Hence, it was indeed during Charlemagnes rule and with his own guidance that various doctrines toward wine in relation to such cultural areas as religion and societal norms were promulgated by monasteries throughout the greater part of Carolingian Europe.
Ultimately, the monastic orders of the Early Middle Ages around the time of Charlemagne played a key role in the institution of wine. In economics, monasteries came to hold an escalating monopoly on vineyard ownership, production, and wine distribution, their operations being heavily influenced by Charlemagne himself, who actively encouraged winemaking among monastic orders. At the same time, monasteries became the most heavily engaged bodies in actual cultivation as well as leaders in the development of viticultural techniques. It was moreover during the time of Charlemagnes rule and largely under his direction that an assortment of doctrines pertaining to wine, specifically in relation to such cultural-related aspects as religion and societal norms, were promulgated by monasteries throughout much of the Carolingian Empire. While this essay may have illustrated these points in the briefest of measures, it is nonetheless clear that monastic orders around the period of Charlemagnes rule did in fact significantly influence the institution of wine.
 Roderick Phillips, A Short History of Wine (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 75.
 Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 75.
 De Blij, Wine, 46.
 Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 75.
 Ibid., 70.
 M.M. Postman, ed., The Agrarian Life of the Middle Ages, vol. I, The Cambridge Economic History of the Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: University Press, 1966), 54.
 De Blij, Wine, 47.
 Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 70.
 Hugh Johnson: Vintage: The Story of Wine (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 117.
 De Blij, Wine, 47.
 François Crouzet, A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000 (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2001), 20.
 B. Guéranger, ed., Polyptych of the Abbey of St. Remi of Reims, in Patterns of Medieval Society, Jeremy duQuesnay Adams (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969), 217.
 Jancis Robinson, ed., The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 431.
 Thomas Babor, Alcohol: Customs and Rituals (London: Burke Publishing Company Limited, 1988), 29.
 Seward, Monks and Wine, 28.
 Johnson, Vintage, 113.
 Robert-Henri Bautier, The Economic Development of Medieval Europe (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd,1971), 48.
 Ibid., 41.
 Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century, trans. Howard B. Clarke (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1974), 105.
 Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 75.
 Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine, prod. by Michael Gill and dir. by Murray Grigor, 381 min., Public Media Video, 1989, videocassette.
 Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine, 431.
 Johnson, Vintage, 112.
 Babor, Alcohol, 29.
 Tim Unwin, Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 146.
 Seward, Monks and Wine, 28.
 Postman, Agrarian Life, 170.
 Bautier, Economic Development, 84.
 Johnson, Vintage, 124.
 Tom Harpur, The Spirituality of Wine (Kelowna, British Columbia: Northstone Publishing, 2004), 61.
 William Anthony Younger, Gods, Men, and Wine, with a forward by James Laver (London: The Food and Wine Society, 1966), 245.
 Harpur, The Spirituality of Wine, 61.
 Johnson, Videocassette.
 De Blij, Wine, 46.
 Harpur, The Spirituality of Wine, 61.
 Johnson, Vintage, 122-23.
 Seward, Monks and Wine, 29.
 Babor, Alcohol, 29.
 Ibid., 28-29.
 Ibid., 29.
 Johnson, Videocassette.
 Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 69.
 Seward, Monks and Wine, 33.
 Gregory A. Austin, Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio Information Services, 1985), 65.
 William H. Willimon, Word, Water, Wine, and Bread (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1980), 53.
 Benedict, Rule for Monasteries, in The Early Middle Ages, vol. One, Readings in Medieval History, 3rd ed., ed. Patrick J. Geary (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003), 186.
 Johnson, Videocassette.
 Irving Woodworth Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church on the use of Wine and Strong Drink (New York: Ams Press, Inc., 1970), 82.
 Einhard, Life of Charles the Great, in The Early Middle Ages, vol. One, Readings in Medieval History, 3rd ed., ed. Patrick J. Geary (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003), 292.
 Austin, Alcohol in Western Society, 65.
 Phillips, A Short History of Wine, 76.
 Jean-Charles Sournia, A History of Alcoholism, trans. Nick Hindley and Gareth Stanton (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 13.