18 abril 2017

The Winter That Froze Wine

The freeze had come literally overnight. On January 5th, temperatures plummeted. This was not a normal cold snap. The entire continent, from Russia to Italy to England, froze overnight. And the cold stayed. The Baltic Sea froze for four straight months. But the Adriatic Sea – between Italy and Greece – froze solid too. Ships that got stuck in the ice saw their whole crew starve and die before the ships were freed. In London, the “Great Frost” iced over the Thames. Almost all the rivers in the north and center of Europe froze, in fact.

Food became scarce quickly, not just due to animals freezing in their pens. Bread literally froze solid. Wine and beer, too. Only hard liquors such as vodka, whiskey, and rum remained liquid. There are stories about how wolves roamed freely in villages, looking for anything left to eat. And sometimes what they ate were the villagers who had simply frozen to death.

The year 1709 was, and remains, the coldest year in Europe on record. The extreme cold stayed not just for the winter, but for the rest of the year. Temperatures remained abnormally low until mid-April. Then when the snows melted, flooding and Europe-wide pandemics followed. And the hunger, from delayed and spoiled crops, remained throughout 1709 and into 1710.

Because of the late spring and then the floods, the summer harvest couldn’t be planted in time. Orchards and vines had been devastated by the extreme  cold. Even in sunny Valencia, Spain, much of their olive trees were destroyed by the cold. The price of grain rose sixfold over 1709. And as ever the poor suffered the most. It is estimated there were 600,000 more deaths than the average year, and 200,000 fewer births. The cold ended in 1710. To this day, scientists are not sure what caused 1709 to be so very cold.

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