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The history of the Bordeaux wine region dates back to the ancient Romans who were the first people to cultivate, plant vineyards and produce Bordeaux wine. The Romans took over the area in about 60 BC. They referred to the area as Burdigala. In his writings, Pliny the Elder (23 A.D.-79 A.D.) mentions plantings in Bordeaux. Latin poet Ausonius recorded mention of wine production in Bordeaux.

The Bordeaux region offered the unique combination of the right soil for growing grapes used in the production of wine coupled with easy access to the Garonne river, which was needed to help ship the wines.

View of Bordeaux and the River Garonne. Jollain.

Garonne River.

During the English occupation of Bordeaux, a charter was granted, first by Richard I and second by John in 1199, to the still-functioning jurade, a controlling body dating originally from the 12th century.

By the late 1300 ��s, Bordeaux had expanded to become the second most populous city after London under control of the British Monarchy. The Bordeaux wine trade began exporting to England in 1302 from St. Emilion for the pleasure of King Edward 1. Dutch buyers increased production by clearing swamp water to increase production.

October 13, 1865, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Bordeaux. Three-Master on the Garonne. 1876.

Three-master on the Garonne. 1876.

Arrived on the French barque Hongkong, Captain Duval, 150 days from Bordeaux. Merchandise to E. De Rutte. Passengers: Madame Dupuy, Messrs. Ganden Bros, M. Rujin, Mr. Beloc, Michel Kansusa.

January 9, 1871, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

French Advices, London, January 7th: La Libverte says the floating population of Bordeaux is daily increasing. It is estimated that already 40,000 persons have arrived in Bordeaux.

August 22, 1878, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Number Five.
The Price of French Wines When Landed in the United States �� Vin Ordinaire �� The Red Wines of Bordeaux the "Claret" of Commerce �� Blending the Wines �� The Cost of Good Wines Prepared for Export �� A Suggestion to Californian Vintners - Pay More Attention to the Ordinary Wines.

Special Correspondence of the Alta.

Paris, July 19, 1878. In my previous letters I have attempted, not to prejudice people against imported wines, but to break down as much as possible the barrier between the importer and native wine producer and the consumer, by directing inquiry toward the true character of wines, which our people drink.

I shall try to be able to show more accurately in future what kinds of wines are exported to the United States from France, what their values are here, approximately what their values are in the hands of importers and commission merchants, and at what prices retailers should offer them to the public. Such a statement, as I have already shown will demonstrate that the retail price of wine per bottle in the United States should be very little more than the retail price here, and that the average wine exported to the United Status should sell there cheaper than the average wine here, because I am already assured, alter enquiry, that the wines sent to the United Slates are of the cheapest kinds In France. It does not follow, however, that the wines, because cheap, are not good; only that, judged by the palate and not by their sanitary effects, they are of lower grade.

There are comparatively few people in the United States who have learned to judge the values and grades of wines, except through experiences in consuming them in our restaurants, hotels, and from purchases made from retailers and jobbers. A certain standard of taste, acquired in this way, rules the retail trade in fixing prices and making labels, so that what in France passes as a good article of ordinary wine, without distinctive brand, being superior to other wines, is retailed under labels which command prices, per bottle, from five hundred to one thousand per cent greater than the cost of the article in the importers' hands. Inasmuch as we must and should, for health's sake, drink ordinary wine (vin ordinaire), because there is very little of an extraordinary quality imported, and comparatively little to be imported, the wine lists of the retailers to the contrary notwithstanding, it is my especial desire to overcome the prejudice against wine marked as vin ordinaire and sold cheap, rather than to attack the wine itself.


And when I have fully made this important point, it will be comparatively easy to show why the prejudice against native wine is in in general misdirected. I have already sufficient information to explain generally what the vin ordinaire, exported to the United States, and how it is prepared for commerce, but I shall only touch upon that briefly now, because I can be better prepared for details* after I have visited Bordeaux, Marseilles and Oatte, the three places whence come the bulk of our clarets, the wines most important to study, because, sanitarily considered, they are the great wines of the world.

The "Claret" of Commerce

My my readers already know that the red wines of the districts near and about Bordeaux are the standard clarets. The term "claret" is only known to commerce outside of France. In France the wines of celebrated vineyards in the Bordeaux districts, such as Chateau Margnux, Chateau Latour,, Chateau La Rose, are known solely by those names, and are only classed under the general designation of red wines of Bordeaux. In the vicinity of those vineyards are districts, such as Medoc, St. Julien, St. Emilion, etc., which produce wines, the superior grades of which bear the names of the district, and not of vineyards; these wines are also classed under the general term Bordeaux Wines inferior to the brands produced in Bordeaux are specifically called Bordeaux wines, without special designation, except that of the grand entrepot, and hence are vins ordinaires. But, besides this latter class, there are other vins ordinaire, not legitimately Bordeaux wines, but which resemble the genuine products of that class, and, even in Paris, pass current among consumers as Bordeaux wines, though generally described by a people, who pretend to drink nothing but Bordeaux, as red wines. At restaurants here, where ordinary wine Is served, the waiter asks simply whether red or white wine is desired. It is, therefore, this class of red wine, which is either genuinely Bordeaux or resembles it, that in commerce is termed "claret."

Blended Wines

The greater portion of the wines exported from France, even those from the port of Bordeaux, called Clare's, are not genuine products of that locality, though they may be pure wines, which Is not always the case, however. The Bordeaux, being the favorite with the consumer, and owing to its tonic qualities, the best for ordinary consumption, becomes the standard for imitation. Imitation is accomplished in two ways, generally by mixing, or "cutting" or "blending" (the two latter terms are technical), wines possessing various characteristics so as to produce what resembles the standard, and, perhaps, often by fabrications, with alcohol as a base, a little genuine dark-red astringent wine and other harmless ingredients. It is charged that even deleterious imitations are placed on the market; but this Is disputed, and I have yet to learn more about It.

Great quantities of such blended wines are made in Bordeaux for exportation, and still more in Marseilles and Cette. A wine broker, who lives in Bordeaux, and who has given me much Interesting information, very frankly said to me to day that only the cheapest wines were exported to the United States, because commission houses with us absorb so much of the profits that the French could not afford to send better articles. This, however, was a general statement, qualified by a general understanding which ran through our conversation, that certain quantities, comparatively small, of higher grade wines, were sent to us; but in the main the remark was undoubtedly, as far as I can learn now, correct. This same gentleman, in reply to my enquiries, gave me a fair Illustration of the character and value of the wines blended in Bordeaux for exportation to the United States. The mixture, or coupage, as the French call It, in best qualities, consists of dark red wines from the Midi districts, near the Rhone, blended with white Bordeaux �� and nothing more. In Cette they use, besides the red wines of the south of France, great quantities of Spanish red wines, and blend them with wines of all descriptions, especially with white wines. The great consumer of Spanish wines Is France.

The Cost of Good Wines.

As an illustration of the cost of good wines blended at Bordeaux and prepared for export, I was given the following estimates:

One tonneau (four barrels, or about 200 gallons) purchased at Lesignau, dark red wine 300
Transportation to Bordeaux 40
One Tonneau white wine of Bordeaux 100
Cost of eight new barrels 80
Blending and clarification 40
Fortification (with alcohol), loading on board ship, etc. 40
Total cost for two tonneaus, or 400 gallons 600

This estimate, if correct, as I presume it is, shows the cost of such wine, when it leaves France, to be one franc and a half, or about twenty-eight cents a gallon. The tariff charge of the United States, forty cents, and transportation to New York, will make the wine cost our importer

Less than Eighty Cents a Gallon

About 16 cents per bottle (five to the gallon), or 8 cents per half-bottle. Between the consumer and the importer there are the legitimate profits, commissions of brokers, and generally cost of bottling. We can, therefore, see from this calculation how it is that a San Francisco French restaurant can furnish a dinner for fifty cents, including a bottle of wine - but It is hard to see why other restaurants and retailers cannot sell the same wine for less than fifty cents a pint, if they call it vin ordinaire, and, If they call it something else more celebrated, why they cannot sell it for less than from one to three dollars a bottle, or at the rate of five to fifteen dollars a gallon. The French people in France and in the United States are not afraid of cheap wine, and the average American is �� that accounts for the retailers' prices generally.

I was informed also by this Bordeaux broker that he could purchase direct from the proprietor (the vintner) genuine and good Bordeaux wine at two francs (about 38 cents) per gallon �� only ten cents more than the cost of the blended wine above estimated, which would add to its value in the United States only one cent for the ordinary pint or half bottle. This, then, measures the difference in the cost of vin superieur and vin ordinaire. Instead of the 600 to 1000 per cent. charged by our retailers.

A Little Water

The Important bearing this question of blending wines has upon our native wines should be observed in two ways: First, the producer of our wines must study how to blend his products in order to satisfy the public taste and demand, and should either cultivate the vines which produce wines necessary for blending or should import; second, the prejudice against the native wines arises generally from the fact that they, like most of the wines of France and Spain, do not accord with the prevailing standard of commerce to which tastes have been educated. So far as their alcoholic strength Is concerned, there would be little objection in that if our people would drink wine as the French do, with the addition of water, at table; or if our dealers, as the French dealers often do, should blend the wines with water. My friend, the Bordeaux broker, today, when I enquired about the process of blending in Paris, smiled and said: On coupe ici avec de I'eau," which means, They cut with water here." The trouble with our wines in the market is simply that they are not like Bordeaux wines, excepting Zinfandel and exceptional lots, and our people would find the same trouble with the wines which formed the original ingredients of the imported favorites which they generally drink. People do not have great varieties of taste. Communities vary in taste, but not within themselves very much. The same wine which will do for America will not suit the English market, etc. it is, therefore, the interest of the producer to suit the public taste, rather than to confound it with varieties.

A Suggestion.

Now, I shall make a pertinent suggestion. If the French can import Spanish red wines, blend them with French white wines, export them to the United States, as Bordeaux; and if our people are content to purchase such wines and credit them to France and Bordeaux, and even to celebrated vineyards; if, indeed, as is true, importers can take California wines, blend them with French wines, and circulate them as French clarets, why, then, cannot California import French and Spanish wines, blend them with our wines, and sell the product as California claret, saving to the producer the advantage of increased market value, Instead of throwing the entire advantage into the hands of the jobber end retailer, whose legitimate commissions and profits should satisfy them?

"Vin Ordinaire" The Ordinary Beverage.

I will conclude this letter with a few words concerning the popularity of vin ordinaire in France. The French, only on special occasions, call for vin superieur. They are generally not only satisfied, but prefer the ordinary article. One reason for this is because wine is a staple of consumption, and not a novelty, or luxury. An important reason, however, was given me by a French banker, the other day I was discussing the points, which I wished to investigate, with a view to securing some aid, and remarked that I proposed to give my attention first to ordinary wines of the people, such as the French ordinarily drink, and such as are exported to the United States. I said that connoisseurs could study wines for themselves, and I might quarrel over distinctions; but unless I had more time to spare, I would study only the wines of common people. He at once resented the use of the words "common people." Why," said he, "vin ordinaire is the best for everybody. No one can I drink the fine wines regularly without injuring his health. The ordinary wine is light, wholesome and cheap, and that is why we all drink it."

18th Century French Trade. Michael Sonenscher.

I infer, therefore, and I think rightly, that the great problem for California producers is not to produce wines for connoisseurs, to compete with the celebrated brands of the world, enough of which is not produced to supply the wants of connoisseurs and for extraordinary occasions, but to produce a vin ordinaire suited to the average taste and demand of our home consumers. It is the variety of California wines, rather than their qualities, which keeps them from becoming popular drinks on their own merits. Hence, the study for the average producer is the study of blending and the study of popular taste. C. A. W.

December 5, 1878, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

Miscellaneous: At Bordeaux, France, the Director of the Mint has been arrested, charged with abstracting 1,300,00 francs' worth of silver bars belonging to the Rothschilds, and substituting galvanized copper bars.

July 18, 1892, Los Angeles Herald , Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Palacio in France
Venezuela's Fugitive Dictator Lands at Bordeaux

Bordeaux, July 17. Raimundo Indueza Palacio set foot on European soil yesterday. It was on board the French Trans- Atlantique company's steamer Labrador that the exiled president of Venezuela came to France, accompanied by his wife, son, daughter, a niece and suite, including two secretaries and the editor of Opinion Nacionale of Caracas.

June 24, 1907, Sacramento Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

American Cruisers Arrive at Bordeaux

BORDEAUX (France), June 23. ��The United States armored cruisers Washington and Tennessee which left Newport on June 14th, arrived today at Royal Roads.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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