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Our Lady Collegiate church in Vernon
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Vernon half-timbered houses
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The Old Mill in Vernon
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Monet's house and garden at Giverny
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The XIIth c. castle keep in Vernon
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Visits, indeed, but there are so many other things to do in Vernon
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Walking and cycling around Vernon
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Museums in Vernon (paintings by Monet) and Giverny
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A walk in the streets of Giverny
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The water lily pond at Giverny
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Tourelles castle in Vernon
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Vernon wine & vineyards
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Strange though it may sound to you,  and although very little  still remains, extensive vineyards existed here for over 1000 years and Vernon was a busy wine market  for  centuries.



   

From the beginning until the 17th century

Although historically  speaking Vernon is  located in Normandy, geographically and geologically, the town and its surroundings are located in the  'Bassin Parisien' (the Paris larger area), where the most important vineyard in France grew  for over  a thousand years. But as in the Paris area,  Vernon (and  Normandy  more generally) is the northernmost  extreme of viticulture where vine is able to yield  decent harvests. However, many years,  the seasons are too wet or  too cool  and lack sun so that the grapes struggle to ripen fully and  the production is poor both in quality and quantity.

Vineyards  already existed here before the year 800, but they developped after the year 1000 when the Dukes of Normandy tried to ensure their country's autonomy.

In the years 1000 - 1700,  there were three main kinds of consumers and they  were all looking for quality wine:
- the church, both the first producer but also the first consumer with its huge network of abbeys and monasteries;
- lords and princes, with their lavish entertainments and banquets;
- from the 12th c. onward,  the fast developping bourgeoisie also drank wine and invested its money in local vineyards.

pHOTO  moines soignat la vigne légende: 

The bourgeois of Rouen

They had planted vine in the very heart of the city, even in the courtyard of the  Hôtel Commun (the City hall), but they especially invested in the Vernon vineyards. Consequently, as  these bourgeois were  the very same ones who also decided on local  taxes, in the 13th and 14th  centuries, Vernon wine paid none  whereas 13 to 20% taxes were levied on wine from the Paris  area.  And the Coutumes de Rouen ( the municipal charter) defined the extense of the vineyards " Wine from Vernon means what grows upstream from Pont de l'Arche as far as the bridge of Vernon and in the sourroundings".

 



Between the years 1000 and 1300 vine  could be found almost everywhere in the province, including in places where  it could hardly grow and be fruitful and  should never have been  planted at all, viz. along the sea coast, In Pays de Bray and Pays de Caux (eastern & northern Normandy) , around Bayeux (western Normandy)  and in the Cotentin  (the peninsula jutting into the Channel).
Obviouslly, these very bold vineyards were the first to disappear from the 14th c. onward and only the Vernon vineyards  remained
until almost today.

 
 carte normandie  N° 205   légende:
Location of the main wine making areas (in red). They all dispappeared before the 16th c. except  in  the Vernon area a small one at Argences (near Caen) that lasted until the mid -19th century.




Wine growing in  the Seine valley and surroundings

The hillsides of  the valleys  inside the Gisors, Pont de l’Arche and Dreux triangle  were covered with vineyards, especially around Vernon. This was  the very centre of  of  wine growing and letters from king Charles VII in 1461 state that " Vernon and this valley lies in  a wine  district and there is little other farming", which proves the  high economic importance of this activity.




METTRE UNE CARTE 


A few examples:

- Epte valley: Trésor Abbey near Bray-Lu  had been granted  vineyards in Bray-Lu by  King Louis IX in 1243. The largest part  of the  Gasny  vineyards belonged to St Ouen Abbey (in Rouen); the rest was St Catherine' s in Vernon. 


- Eure valley: in the 16th c. Bueil  used to export  an average of 300 barrels of wine a year and in 1548, the Eure river carried  31 boats loaded with 3.440 barrels.

- Seine valley : there were vineyards on both banks. For instance, the archbishopric of Rouen owned a large estate at Port Mort on the right bank.  On the other bank, vineyards all over a place called Longueville, a word that used to refer to  the left bank between Vernon and Gaillon, i.e. today the villages of St Marcel , St Just , Pierre d'Autils and St Pierre de Bailleul. The location of the Longueville vineyard was well chosen because it is sheltered from western winds by the Bizy and St Just forest, it faces south-east   and   the coarse chalky  soil,  a geological accident there, is most suitable for vine.

ici carte postale ST P autils: avec légende " "crowded' growth  on vine-props  towards the beginning of the 20th century. (see below, cultivation techniques) "

All the main Norman abbeys owned land in Longueville. In the 13th c.  there mingled  the possesions of 
Trinity in  Rouen, St Georges at Bocherville, Jumièges,  Bec Hellouin, Montivillers, Fécamp, St Taurin  in Evreux, Bernay, St Evroult,  Trinity in Caen,  Ste Geneviève in Paris, Our Lady at Vaux de Cernay , St Amand in Rouen, the archbishopric of Rouen, the Templars  at  Renneville and Bourgoult, Vernon hospital, etc... and do not forget the  royal domain - that had taken the place of that of the Lords of Vernon and that yielded about 500 - 600 hectolitres a year.


Years of decline    (1250 -1700 )

 But difficulties were not long to come :

- as early as 1150 other wine making  regions entered in competition with us , such as  Bordeaux , whose ships  could sail up the Seine to Rouen and Burgundy  (once Normandy had become French around 1200) linked by  the river Seine ; 

- competition with cider,  a much cheaper drink than wine, so that the number of apple trees was increasing as fast as that of vinestocks was decreasing. By the 16th c., cider had become the main Norman drink, obviously at the expense of  local wine ;

- the always increasing and unbearable weight of taxes on wine, endangering a  thousand-year wine culture

Taxes on wine

 From the 15th c. onward, taxes were the main cause of the decline , expecially with Richelieu, (1st half of the 17th c.) who was so heavy-handed as regards taxes that the retail price in taverns  increased threefold.
An economist at the end of the 17th c.,
Boisguillebert, remarked, in a very unpolitically correct way today, that "the price of wine in the taverns being  prohibitive, the poor workers are obliged to drink water."!



 

Around Vernon large  vineyards  were abandoned, "the winegrowers couldn't cover their expenses because of the high number of taxes they had to pay for their wine" says a 17thc. writer in his book, La Muse Normande. And he adds : " they would throw away heir baskets,  and their billhooks saying ' That I be hanged if I prune again the boughs' and wine hillsides laid fallow."


A few examples of decline


-  In the accounts of the  manor-house of Breuilpont (Eure valley) , one reads :" His Lorddship's vineyards:  they  used to total 10 acres. The 4 acres of  the Clos d'Aval have ben turned into ploughland and  are now part of the farm, the rest, not cultivated any more, has turned into  hedges and bushes."
- Around 1670, the monks of
St Catherine  Abbey in Vernon pulled up 3.5 hecatres that were  turned into ploughed land.

In the second part of the 17th c., Parisian wine merchants were even  forbidden to buy any wine from  inside a 20 league ( about 80 km)  radius around Paris, thus depriving our wine growers of a profitable market, thuis limited to local customers.


 Main customers of  Mr Maret, a wine grower in Bueil (Eure valley): a few local persons of distinction, such as the vicar and the public notary of
Villiers en Desoeuvre and the tavern-keepers  of Villiers en Desoeuvre, St Illiers le Bois, Breuilpont, Villegat, Pacy, Garennes, St André, Boudeville , Evreux  and Anet, all of them located within  less than 20 km.



New wine and quality

What did  the wines of the past taste like? We  don't know exactly but  we are able to find a  few drinkers' comments in popular medieval literature.

Written around 1200 by   Jean Bodel d‘Arras, the  Jeu de Saint Nicolas (St Nicolas' Mystery play) shows a wine  crier , and the usual phrases  he uses are good examples to describe  the new wine  sold in Paris : "The wine has just been broached,  in jugful and barrelful; unpretentious, silky,   with a full  and complete body running like a squirrel in the forest, without any sour or rotten flavour. It has aged sur lie (the wine stays in contact with the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation - the lees),  it's dry and sharp, as clear as a sinner's tear, lingering on the tongue. See how its froth / foam disappears, how you can see it skip,  twinkle and sparkle. Keep it a little on your tongue and you'll feel its taste in your heart."

Translated into modern  oenologic  terms, this means the fermentation is not quite complete, the wine still contains sugar, which makes it pleasant to drink but  makes it imposible to keep it  for a long time. This is light-bodied and thin wine (with 7 - 8 % alcohol content, 10% in the very best years) that does not intoxicate the drinker but  that turns sour when summer comes.



photo vendanges seine ex canada




Mixed feelings about the quality

One can read very flatteringn comments, but  a number of authors do not hide  how much they dislike our poor qualiy wine.

Robert de Torigny  (12 th C;) about   Longueville wine: " excellent wines"
Dumoulin ( first half of the 17th c. :" In the western parts (of Normandy) such as Vernon, Pacy, Evreux and Ménilles, they make good wines, especilly when the season is hot and dry that could be considered as better than the  ones from the Paris area."

 - A1776 writer : " If some modern geographers rashly say vine does not grow in Normandy and if the  prooves I can give do not satisfy them, I shall tell them to refer to the excellent vineyards of Menilles, Vaux, Hardencourt, Ecardenville, parishes situated hrdly  three leagues from Evreux, and the wine from which , in some  districts, can equl that of Burgundy."

Dictionary of the Eure Département, 19th c. :Ménilles (near Pacy sur Eure) produced a wine  held "in great esteem."


- Anonymous, 16thc.: "This territory is hostile to Bacchus."

- Anonymous, 16thc.:
" Normandy wines are neither full-bodied, nor strong, nor generous;
Must be drunk and  wished for only for lack of anything better."

- Olivier Basselin, end of 15th c. :
Do not drink Colinhout ( wine from Jumièges, in the lower Seine valley)
For this leads to death."

- Regnard,  a late 17thc. poet travelled in Normandy, writing a few lines about the places he was visiting. When in Vernon, while we expect a description of the town in the 17th c., he only writes :
"About Vernon,  not a word shall I say  because of the awful wine that we drank there."

- Do you know how our local wine was called?  'Cailloutin' ( i.e. approximately 'stony') , a name that does not evoke quality indeed...

Even very recently, with  elaborate  wine-making techniques so as to produce the best wine possible, the result was ar from that excellent...

An inhabitant of St Pierre d'Autils, Mr Glochon, says his father-in-law had planted 500 stocks  of a good variety at St Pierre d'Autils in 1950. In spite of all their efforts, quality was absent. He writes :"Despite a beautiful  ruby coulour,  the wine had a sharp after-taste so that  the drinkers who had not been warned  before would wince. One year, around 1950 the harvest enables us to make 1,000 litres of a  sourish wine  (instead of the usual 500 litres) wih  a 9% strength: quality was inversely proportional to  quantity. (...) We  would drink some of the wine at home,  a part was distilled to make spirits, the rest was used to make vinegar."



photo etiquette vin Glochon



PAGE II Du XVIIIème siècle à nos jours

From the 18th century until today


The period beginning around 1700 reveals two main transformations: an increase of   population  in the Paris area ( from 200,000 - 300,000 inhabitatants in 1600  to about a million  in 1789)  and wine becoming  the usual drink of  common people. These  changes are just beginning  in the 16thc.,  they develop on the 17th c. and are like a landslide in the 18th century.

Indeed, tastes have changed. The lower masses rush to  taverns to drink wine everyday whereas they used to  have some only in special occasions. Hence an enormous increase of the quantity  to be produced. Moreover this wine had to be red, not white. And finally it  also had to be very cheap !

phot

Common people alcoholism
Remember this economist's quote, Boisguilbert, who  found it a pity that, because of  increased taxes on wine, workers should have to  drink water instead of wine ! The number of taverns  kept soaring and drunkenness too, even if we haven'y got any reliable statistics about it. ( In some streets there was a tavern in each house of the street!) Although this is a later phenomenon, think about novelist Emile  Zola who, in L'Assommoir , describes workers' alcoholism, the origin of which goes back to the 17th century.


To respond to this new urban and popular market, wine growers reacted in two ways:

1/ they planted new vineyards,  no longer on he hillsides but further down in the valleys, where the soil is  richer, deper and heavier : this increases  plant growth  and vigour,  leading to  abundant  harvests but  the grapes  possess  a smaller amount of sugar and polyphenols  and a higher percentage of acidity, which means  mediocre wine.

 PLAN TRUDAINE Map of Gaillon, 10 km  downstream from Vernon, around 1750. Vine has been planted everywhere, except in the very lowest parts of the valley  and seems to invade the whole landscape.


2/ New  vine varieties  were planted to produce the  cheap red wine that would be sold to  taverns. At first they planted 'gamay', which, with a milder climate,  makes a very honourable  wine (as in the Beaujolais area), but here  the grapes  cannot ripen  completely and the  wine is  'flabby' and dull.
After 1730 - 40 they began mass planting 'gouais' , a low quality kind of vine offering many advantages (it produces 2 to 4 times as much as  quality stocks; it resists  Spring frost )  but unfortunately the resulting wine  tastes  bad, not to say very bad.

The colour of wine

It's the sun that determines the colour of red wine : the synthesis of  colouring matters requires more sunshine than  the  making of sugars  and the mere ripening of  grapes. This is why  red wines are  always light-red ("deficient in colour" people used to say in the 16th c.)  in northernmost  wine making  areas. it is therefore advisable to produce   almost only white , as is done today  in  places like Champagne and Alsace in France,  Franconia and   Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany.


Since they were not able to produce  the dark-red wine the customers wanted, our wine makers were obliged to make  it by mixing  their bad tasting wine with a  very  dark  one (but  also very bad ),   called "dyer". (The name itself is telltale !) and if it wasn't dark enough yet, they could resort to the ultimate method: adding  elder bury juice ! Difficult to imagine anything worse and more unhealthy...

This is how Vernon  produced  most undrinkable beverage for  almost two centuries. But we were not the only ones to be addicted to this awful practice: all the wine makers in the Paris area were doing the same and even other vineyards, once  in high repute , such as  that of Auxerre (northern Burgundy) and Orleans (Loire valley)   produced the same kind of trash.  And obviously, this infamous practice  was largely responsible for the death of these vineyards in the long run.




Cultivation techniques

You must not imagine vineyards of the past as straight, beautifully spaced  lines  of  vine stocks  growing on iron wire as today. Vine was planted in 3 to 5 stock wide lands using a  special layering technique  ( inducing a twig to root while still attached to the parent plant)  thus enabling the  viticulturist to renew the plants for next to no money  whereas the cost of a single stock is high. A vineyard that is cultivated like this  looks quite anarchic with thousands of  1.25 - 1.35m high vine-props , all so close one to another that there could be as many as 20,000  on one hectare.
Layering has one major drawback: the high cost of tending the wineyards, because of the  cost of the vine-props  but mainly of the  extra labour  that this "crowded"  growth entails.

PHOTO manuscrit  légende : note the "crowded' growth , very different from today's straight rows

photo  carte postale St Pierre autil  

avec + ou - cette légende : "crowded' growth  on vine-props  towards the beginning of the 20th century. ou bien  enluminure  riches heures berry

The 1808 survey and the waning of the vineyard.

The Ministry of the Interior  made a survey of the French vineyard in 1808 and this is how we have detailed information about the local vineyard  when its decline was just beginning.



CARTE  ici  605
Vineyards covered 579 hectares in the  Seine valley, the two main production centres being Vernon and
Saint-Pierre-d’Autils.

The vines are kept in good condition, they are "low and well grown", the  Sous-Préfet ( a local administrator ) of Les  Andelys writes in the report but everything shows the wine is poor quality: it is often sour -  so that  a  large part of the harvest is immediately turned into vinegar. The  Sous-Préfet also says  the wine from  only Giverny and Port Mort  is " fairly acceptable" and that after July everything is too sour to be drunk. Moreover  it does not sell well in Paris, its main outlet, because of  city toll taxes. The Justice of the Peace in Vernon   regrets  that " the wine from the very weak vineyard of the Vernon valley is not longer sent to Paris now that it pays the same  city toll taxes as the wine from the best French vineyards."

The downfall of the vineyards that the 1808 survey enables us to perceive gathered impetus all along the 19th c. One example:  1791 plans of Port Mort still show a few  recently planted vineyards,  but the 1799 plans reveal  vine has been pulled out in a number of plots. From 50 hectares, in 1791 the local vineyards fell down to 28 in 1810 and  only 5 in 1868.
They disappeared day after day because they were too expensive to  cultivate compared to the income that was satisfactory only one year out of two or three, because of unfavourable weather. Never forget this is the  northermost limit  of vine growing.





mettre ici le  tableau du déclin  802 


Quality yesterday and today

Remember that the wine makers of the past  had no idea whatsoever of the physicochemical processes of fermentation and could in no way  control it. It's only in  the late 18th c. with Chaptal - and chaptalization -  that this could  begin being done. This means it is absolutely imposible to compare the quality of any wine today with  that  we can suppose to  wines of the past because today's techniques make it possible to obtain  a decent wine from any grape juice (even with  the high acidity of underripe grapes), which was totally impossible  before.


Petty local quarrels

Around 1850, local authorities were discussing about building a bridge over the river Epte  to link Giverny and Limetz ( a village 3 km away - this is the bridge that  exists today near the former Giverny railway station). The  village Council met to  talk about it and it was argued that, should a bridge be built, the wine growers from Limetz would then be able to go  to Vernon more easily than before  to sell their wine, thus entering into competition with the Giverny growers. As  a result... the Council voted against the building of the bridge...!

 

In various books or articles, one can read about so-called "wines held in high repute" at
Nonancourt, Marcilly, Ezy, Ménilles, St Pierre d'Autils, but at  best they were just above the most ordinary ones. Everywhere  vineyards receded and disappeared faster and faster (In the Eure Département, areas dwindled from about 1,900 hectares in 1800 down to 250 in 1900); their place was taken by fruit orchards in the Seine hillsides  and  by around 1950 - 55 this agricultural activity was definitively over.
 


Phylloxera 

Contrary to what  could be thought,  the phylloxera  crisis at the end of the 19th c.  is not responsible for the death of our vineyard: only two spots were destroyed, 4.5 hectares altogether  near Gasny and betwen Gaillon and les Andelys in 1896. On the contrary, it  gave local vineyards a  temporary  stimulus since wine  being rarer, it  was more expensive and  wine makers could make more profits. But it was just a flash in the pan.


 


Later, a few passionate amateurs went on tending  small vineyards and  producing their own wine: for instance  there was  still a 4 hectolitre harvest in Evreux in 1965, a 3 hectolitre one at Garennes ( Eure valley) inn 1970. At St Marcel, near Vernon, Mr Léon, in the years 1975 - 80,  still used  to bring a few bottles of his own production  to the yearly banquet of war veterans:  depending on the quality of the wine, the bottles  were quickly empyied some years, while 
in other years they remained  almost  full !



Mr Glochon's vineyard at  St Pierre d’Autils
Mr Glochon gave up wine making as a  pastime in 1970 because it cost him too much: he had to buy  sulphate, sulphur, fertilizer but specially  hundreds of metres of acrylic nets used to wrap his vine rows to protect them from birds. "One saturday afternoon in 1970",  Mr Glochon says, " a cloud of  starlings swept down onto the vineyard and in two hours they ate the equivalent of 300 litres of wine. The nets had not be delivred to us on time and that year we produced  hardly 150 litres of wine."

mettre phot des vignes GLOCHON





What still remains from  the vineyards?
Very little as a matter of fact.

The certificates of  marriages and deaths in the registry offices in the wine making villages around Vernon  retain the memory of the thousands of men and women who toiled  in the vineyards and they also enable us to visualize the decline: until 1830- 40 almost every page of the registers mention  wine  growers who married or who died. Little by little, marriages became  less numerous and finally after 1900 even the mention of  the death of  wine makers got rarer, a proof that the vineyard was dying too.


PHOTO

Certificate of marriage at St Marcel of  Léon Lecoq "wine maker" , son of Louis Lecoq, deceased, and of Elisa Lampérière, "wine maker",  who marries on December  9, 1884  Miss   Elvire Rouland, "wine maker",  daughter of  Maurice Rouland and of Joséphine Chéron, "wine makers" .


- Several churches   have chapels or statues or windows dedicated to St Vincent,   wine growers' patron saint XXXXXX .  There is also the statue called ' Our Lady  of  wine growers' at  la Chapelle Réanville. In Les Andelys, this old tradiiton : every autumn , a bunch of grapes is  placed in the hand of a a statue of Christ ( under the porch of the Petit Andely church) to recall the days of wine grwing.




PHOTO


PHOTO  collines giverny
PHOTO noms de rues

- A few vines that have  turned wild again  in the hills above 
St Just , St Pierre d'Autils or Giverny, that animals use as shelters, the grapes of which delight both  birds and a few people strolling by. Here and there a few plants that used to live  in community with vine, such as  the vine allium,  a specific grape- hyacinth,  the wild marigold. Add to this the names of a few streets : Chemin des vignes (Vine lane)  at Villez sous Bailleul, rue du Vin Bas ( Lower wine street), le chemin des Grandes Vignes ( Long vineyard lane) at Ménilles, rue des Vignes ( Vineyards  street ) in Vernon, but all this amounts to  very little, almost nothing, as a matter of fact.

 


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