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Drinking to forget: Farewell to Africa

Drinking to forget: Farewell to Africa

As India was the jewel within the crown of Britain’s previous empire so was Algeria to France. Its oldest abroad territory, the birthplace of the Overseas Legion and with an enormous wine business very important to France’s personal. But because the de-colonialisation motion gathered tempo within the post-Second World Conflict world, the stage was set for a drama of surprising, bloody violence and worlds turned the wrong way up.

France had granted autonomy to Tunisia and Morocco in 1956 after sustained political strain. Each had been protectorates moderately than colonies however Algeria was totally different.

Not only a mere colony, Algeria was thought-about a part of France itself – but the rights of French women and men weren’t prolonged to Africans.

From a viticultural standpoint, Algeria was vitally necessary to metropolitan France and had been the nation’s saving grace when phylloxera started to take maintain within the 1870s.

Till that time, though there had been vineyards producing the tough native pinard for the French garrisons which turned so emblematic of Legion life, viticulture was not extensively practiced within the colony.

As France’s vineyards suffered nevertheless there got here an explosion in plantings in Africa, its sandy soils largely impervious to the little louse. In 1872 the land underneath vine coated some 16,600 hectares. By 1881 this had virtually doubled to 30,482ha and by 1890 it was up to 110,042ha and the expansion continued into the 1930s and a peak of 400,000ha and a manufacturing of 18.9m hectolitres.[1]

Though a piece of this land was all the time owned and managed by native Muslims, the overwhelming majority of vineyards in Algeria have been operated by the colons or ‘pieds noirs’, who as typically as not have been of Spanish, Maltese or Italian extraction as they have been French.

One of many extra fanciful options as to how they received their nickname is that their ft have been deeply stained from countless trudging in dark-skinned grapes every harvest.

In consequence, the overwhelming majority of Algerian wine manufacturing was centered across the extra European Oranais area within the west of the nation.

What wasn’t consumed in Algeria itself was bought off in bulk and contributed massively to the Algerian financial system. Wine’s share of the agricultural revenue was as excessive as 49% (1959-60), it was answerable for 25% of gross funding in Algeria in 1955 and offered a fifth of the employment within the agricultural sector.

Morocco and Tunisia have been additionally main wine producers although not almost to the identical extent as Algeria.

From the 1930s France was importing greater than 10m hl of Algerian wine, largely for mixing the extra strong Carignan and Cinsault produced there with the extra insipid Aramon being mass produced within the Languedoc on the time and which offered the petit rouge (small purple) which was the civilian equal of pinard and the engine oil of France’s agricultural and industrial labourers.

In 1938 these imports peaked at 17.1m hl and even on the eve of independence in 1962 imports have been as excessive as 14m hl and price 1.1bn francs.

As Keith Sutton notes: “It could be argued that Algeria’s vineyards formed an indispensable complement to French viticulture in that many ordinary French wines required the addition through mixing of a <vin médecin>. Without such blending anything up to 23 million hectolitres of French annual wine production would be downgraded and potentially unsaleable.”[2]

But regardless of this hyperlink to the metropole larger political recognition and integration failed to materialise, the French being glad to keep the established order in an influence dynamic that was to its liking and with the pieds noirs rabidly opposed to any measures that might grant the native Muslims something like political and social equivalence.

Uninterested in this hypocrisy and French intransigence, the liberation motion in Algeria, headed by the Entrance de liberation nationale (FLN), developed alongside extra violent strains than occurred in neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia.

In 1954 Algiers, Oran and Constantine with their sizeable European populations have been rocked by bombing campaigns. Europeans and Muslims alike have been butchered, disemboweled, mutilated on their farms or on the street, whereas many different Algerians have been threatened and coerced into serving to the FLN.

In return the European colons lynched and murdered Muslims in reprisal assaults, typically with the police turning a blind eye. As so typically in such conflicts atrocity fuelled atrocity till neither aspect might declare any declare to innocence, and all innocence was simply blood on the arms of these holding the knife.

The FLN have been ultimately rooted out of Algiers by Basic Massu and his paratroopers in 1956-57, as so famously portrayed within the basic movie The Battle of Algiers, and the majority of the motion moved into Algeria’s highlands, particularly in Kabylia.

The Legion was on the forefront of the preventing and whereas it and different French troops proved themselves robust and resourceful find and destroying FLN cells, brutal remedy of civilians and the widespread use of torture forged a shadow that lingers to today – not that the FLN have been above such strategies both, removed from it because the bloodbath on the village of Melouza clarify.

But though the FLN have been crushed militarily, crushed virtually, the warfare and the means employed in waging it have been tearing France aside politically. The disaster was so acute that in 1958 it even introduced down the Fourth Republic when a putsch orchestrated by the Algiers deputies and the army opposed the formation of a brand new authorities that was in favour of a negotiated answer in Algeria.

With many believing civil conflict was a risk, the nation turned to Charles de Gaulle to reserve it.

De Gaulle was ushered into energy underneath a brand new structure, the idea of the Fifth Republic, and with it powers as sole government of the nation and the declaration of a state of emergency for the primary six months of his premiership.

‘Je vous ai compris!‘ he boomed to wild adulation from the colons. But if the generals and pieds noirs hoped that de Gaulle would ensure the continuation of an ‘algérie française’, they have been to be deeply disillusioned.

Regardless of initially drawing up plans to combine Algeria and its Muslim inhabitants nearer to France, continued opposition to the struggle at residence and a reluctance to prolong citizenship to all Algerians led de Gaulle to put together the best way for independence. Shocked and betrayed, with the army’s ordinary decrying of a army victory become defeat by meddling politicos, simply three years later the generals started planning one other putsch.


The Centurions

French troops on operations in Kabylia

For the Legion itself, as a lot as France and Algeria, it was a desperately unsure time.

Indochina was gone, so too Morocco and Tunisia, and now Algeria was virtually definitely subsequent. What was the Legion with out Algeria? It was Algeria.

The previous cavalry, the Chasseurs d’Afrique and Spahis had had their traditions farmed out, “for continuation” to different regiments. The French marine corps, referred to as ‘La Coloniale’ due to its use because the principal arm of French imperial enlargement might revert to its correct title of infanterie de la marine. However what of the Legion?

Sidi-bel-Abbés and Saïda; the exploits that impressed Beau Geste; the bar room Cameróns; the clinking of absinthe glasses on zinc bar tops; the fortnightly cuites; the hundreds of petty scams and wheezes, desertion makes an attempt and doing ton truc that made up the cumulative experiences of generations of legionnaires – all value not a rattling to politicians.

Might the Legion survive? Not for the primary time the spectre of disbandment raised its head over the corps.

And would the Legion need to survive anyway? How might it, of all models, turn out to be yet one more of ‘la reguliere’, ‘la biffe’, tucked away in a garrison city within the Bouches-du-Rhône or Provence the place nothing ever occurred?

Solely North Africa, writes Porch, offered the stage grand sufficient for the Legion ego. And but, the very reasoning by which a part of the Legion tried to save each itself and its North African ville mere was, in the long run, very almost its personal destruction.

The good blemish on the Legion’s report was its position within the ‘General’s Putsch’ of 1961 when the seemingly indestructible 1er Regiment Etrangère Parachutiste (REP), destroyed and reconstituted twice in the course of the Indochina Struggle and a part of the ‘praetorian guard’ of the French military, the 10th Parachute Division, mounted a determined coup to attempt to seize Algeria and make sure the continuation of an algérie française.

But when elements of the military and most of all of the Legion, have been passionate advocates of the continuation of French colonial rule in Algeria, and noticed their calling as troopers and the trigger by which they have been engaged as a secular vocation, a ‘national priesthood’, then they have been, by this time, little greater than the clergymen of a lifeless god.

The coup was a depressing failure and for its half in it the 1er REP was disbanded for the fourth and last time by political fairly than army motion. The hesitation of different Legion regiments to not become involved was the Legion’s saving grace when arduous left politicians petitioned de Gaulle for all the unit’s abolition over the 1er REP’s indiscretion.

Various hardcore legionnaires, went into hiding and helped discovered the Organisation d’Armée Sécrets (OAS), later made well-known by Frederick Forsythe’s novel and the next movie The Day of the Jackal.

A very nasty terrorist group, the OAS killed hundreds in each Algeria and metropolitan France earlier than it was damaged up by French safety providers with 4 of its ringleaders executed in 1962-63 by army firing squads.

However the trigger was hopeless. In 1964 Algeria achieved its independence and the Legion bid farewell to its previous stamping grounds perpetually when the final detachment departed in 1968.

The impact of independence on the wine business in Algeria was dramatic and on the spot. As beforehand talked about, proper up till the second of independence Algerian exports to France remained terribly excessive.

The primary notable impact of independence and with it the departure of nine-tenths of the European inhabitants and tons of of hundreds of troops was an utter collapse of the home wine market from 1.4m hl to lower than 500,000 hl.

The Evian Accords signed in 1964 had agreed in concept that France would proceed to take some 8m hl of Algerian wine a yr however on a steadily declining foundation (of 500,000 hl much less per yr), which might permit the nation to shift its export focus elsewhere.

Viticulture was one of many agricultural legacies of French colonialism and it was nonetheless of main significance to the financial system of Algeria and one of many essential employers.

The produce of the brand new Algeria: fruit and grains and whereas grapes are included they have been more and more possible to be desk grapes than their vinous cousins

In follow, nevertheless, France utterly failed to stay up to its aspect of the discount. In 1963 imports had already slumped to 6.8m hl, underneath half what they’d been the earlier yr. From 1964-66 they fell again according to the accords however in 1967 they plummeted once more to simply three.1m hl and the price of Algerian exports which had stood at 1.1bn francs in 1962 was down to 234m francs in 1968.

Though West Germany and different European nations started taking as a lot as 5 occasions extra wine from Algeria, this nonetheless amounted to underneath 1m hl of wine and was no the place close to sufficient to cease the big construct up of unsold wine in Algeria itself.

By the top of the accord settlement in 1968 France had taken eight.6m hl lower than had been agreed. The explanations for this have been diversified. To start with, beginning in 1962, overproduction in France itself and the primary inflow of embittered pieds noirs conspired to scale back the quantity of wine France imported from its troublesome colony.

France was additionally altering its attitudes to its personal winemaking practices as properly. In 1964 France reformed its ‘statut viticole français’ so as to improve the world underneath vine to produce wines of the sort that had beforehand been imported from Algeria.

In 1967 the nation handed one other regulation which considerably decreased the quantity of Algerian wine permitted to be used in mixing. Began within the 1930s, by the 1960s the AOC system was more and more extensively adopted and with it ever extra strict tips and conditions.

Though many of those measures arguably paved the best way for the standard controls seen in France right now and crucial as they could have been to weenthe French business off its reliance on low cost Algerian imports, additionally they tightened the noose on Algeria’s personal wine business and given the character of the battle and the timing of many of those legal guidelines, one can be onerous pressed to declare they weren’t slightly retributive in spirit.

In 1968 the Soviet Union, fast to pounce on many decolonialised nations right now, signed an settlement to buy 1m hl of wine after which 5m hl a yr from 1969-1975. This definitely drained a lot of the wine lake however at costs that made Algerian vineyards primarily unprofitable.

Whereas France, for all its inconsistencies and bad-tempered behaviour, had been shopping for wine at 72 francs per hectolitre and West Germany at 50, the united states bullied the Algerians down to 32.5 francs/hl.

Though new offers have been struck with the EEC (because it was then) the quantities taken have been down at meagre ranges, Algeria’s wine business was in terminal decline.

From 355,000ha beneath vine in 1962, by 1984 this had fallen to 143,540ha and manufacturing from 12m hl to 1.3m hl, with yields down to 9.7hl/ha (from highs of 30-40hl/ha)

As a predominantly Muslim nation, the brand new authorities had all the time been uncomfortable at its agricultural business’s reliance on viticulture, and there was a transfer to repurpose as a lot winery land as attainable with wheat, fruit and greens and date palms, as an alternative. Not all vineyards proved appropriate for replanting nevertheless and lots of hundreds of hectares of vines, these not repurposed regionally for rudimentary desk grapes or raisins, have been little question deserted. Not worthwhile to run, not value grubbing up.

Tourism, which could have offered an outlet for native wine, was a great distance off being developed and alongside the change in focus agriculturally, the ultimate nail in Algerian wine’s coffin was the invention and exploitation of oil.

There are nonetheless a number of vineyards in Algeria at present, a reminder of each the deep-rooted French legacy and older Roman one however in measurement and scale it’s however a ghost of its former self however, in that respect, it isn’t the one one.


New beginnings

l’Establishment des Invalides de la Légion Étrangère at Poulybier. Picture courtesy of the Overseas Legion

Having give up its African cradle, the Legion did certainly find yourself in southern France. The Legion’s new base, the place it stays to today, was Provence and the city of Aubagne close to Marseille.

The lack of the previous ville mere might have stung however the location of the brand new headquarters introduced it shut to a singular establishment within the French army – the Legion’s personal winery.

In 1953, having suffered hundreds of casualties in Indochina, the Legion had invested in an property in Puyloubier close to Aix-en-Provence to function a care house for badly wounded ex-legionnaires with nobody else to take care of them and who may in any other case drift into destitution and alcoholism.

The property is called l’Establishment des Invalides de la Légion Étrangère and is residence to maybe 100 ex-legionnaires, some within the 80s and 90s.

For all of the blood-curdling mottos comparable to ‘March or Die!’ typically related to it, the Legion’s extra trendy ethos is as soon as you’re a legionnaire, “tu n’abandonnes jamai les tiens, ni au combat, ni dans la vie (‘you never abandon your own, neither in combat or in life”).

With the massive châteaux got here a sizeable chunk of land, over 200 hectares in complete, and, being the south of France, a winery too. The vineyard is at the moment often known as Domaine de Capitaine Danjou – he of Mexico, Camerone and wooden-hand fame.

The preliminary manufacturing was pretty tough stuff by all accounts, correct pinard, darkish and alcoholic, upon which generations of legionnaires had thrived. Within the 1980s, realising their very own winemaking expertise weren’t ok, the Legion despatched its grapes for vinifying and bottling on the native co-operative.

In 2006, nevertheless, two winemakers who’re additionally officers within the French reserves[3] (and one in every of whom was a good friend of the Legion’s then commanding officer) have been invited to begin consulting on the property. They now spend 30 days a yr working on the property as a part of their service necessities and high quality has improved noticeably.

Steadily expanded through the years, at present the Legion has 40 hectares of vines and produces round 250,000 bottles a yr, making it one of many largest producers within the AOC of Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire.

The wine produced there, pink, white and rosé, is at the start for the Legion messes around the globe. Any surplus – the bottom vary appropriately named ‘Esprit du Corps’ and the highest cuvée, ‘General’s Réserve’ – is bought commercially to help the maintenance of the establishment – bookbinding and pottery are the opposite key actions for the residents and sources of revenue.

The pink is a basic southern French mix of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, the white is constructed from Rolle (Vermentino) and the rosé makes use of Cinsault alongside some Grenache and Rolle.

Previous comrades: a pensionnaire and serving legionnaire in the course of the harvest at Domaine du Capitaine Danjou. Picture courtesy of the Overseas Legion

The vineyards themselves are taken care of by the pensionnaire on the care residence and younger legionnaires are despatched to assist out over the course of the season particularly at harvest time.

To males inured to regimented life and dealing outside in all circumstances, pruning and retaining the vines in neat, serried ranks is little question a therapeutic pastime, a peaceable one too but additionally one with its personal sense of camaraderie and shared endeavour akin to army life.

There’s something notably poetic in the truth that not solely have such eager wine guzzlers develop into winemakers but in addition that it’s the French military’s overseas corps that has adopted that the majority French of enterprises – viticulture.

Simply because the Legion has lengthy boasted that it’s a house for these in search of a brand new life or redemption so it too has been formed and shaped by every successive inflow of latest recruits, every marketing campaign and its collected traditions.

And one custom that lasts to this present day is the Legion toast to fallen comrades, harking again to these African glory days, “a nos amis sous les sables”, ‘to our friends beneath the sands’.

Beforehand: Tiger blood in Tonkin – the hell of Dien Bien Phu



Drinking to overlook: The Overseas Legion

Drinking to overlook: The asylum of misfortune


[1] Sutton, Keith, ‘Algeria’s Vineyards. An issue of decolonialisation’, Méditeranée, 1988, p56

[2] Sutton, Keith, op cit., p58

[3] He declined to be named explicitly for this piece saying his involvement was not as essential because the work carried out on the domaine and what it stands for, however it’s extensively publicised elsewhere that it’s Philip Baly of Château Coutet in Sauternes. The opposite winemaker is Bertrand Léon of Les Trois Croix in Fronsac, who additionally works as technical director at Château d’Esclans in Provence.