Wines, Vines, War, Peace and Troops in Afghanistan

Members of the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, patrol a grape vineyard with members of the Afghan National Army in Char Shaka, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on April 28, 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Justin A. Young)

I don’t really understand why wines and vines are so frequently associated with conflict.

Wine and War

Glancing at my bookshelf, for example, I find Wine & War by Don & Petie Kladstrup, which is about the Nazis in Bordeaux during the Second World War. Then there’s  Wine, War & Taxes by John V.C. Nye, which examines the Anglo-French wine trade in the 19th Century. Olivier Torres’s The Wine Wars tells the story of the Mondavi  “invasion” of the Languedoc. (And of course there’s my own Wine Wars, which examines tensions and conflicts implicit in the globalization of the wine market.)

These are all books that show how human conflict in other areas inevitably reveals itself in wine. I guess that’s the wine-war connection.

Wine and Peace

What about wine and peace? Perhaps the most famous “peace wine” story is Vino della Pace,  which is made in Cormons in Italy’s northeast corner. This region was devastated in World War I and then again in the Second World War. In a hopeful post-war gesture that I wrote about in Wine Wars, the local cooperative collected vines from all over the world and planted them in a special vineyard. They use the grapes to make Il Vino della Pace or the wine of peace.

The hope is that the people of the world can find a way to coexist as harmoniously as the grapes that make the wine in your glass. To see the vineyard and taste the wine as Sue and I did during a visit to Friuli a few years ago can be a moving experience.

Vines, War and Peace in Afghanistan

So you can understand why I was moved again recently when I read about a program that Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology program  has developed to help U.S. troops in Afghanistan avoid conflict through a better understanding of the importance of the vine in that country.

Afghanistan is not an important wine-producing country, but grapes are a major crop (as they are in Iran, for example). “Forty-eight percent of the fruit-bearing land in Afghanistan is dedicated to grapes,” according to WSU. “Much of the crop is grown for personal consumption as table grapes and raisins, not for commercial use. Because most Afghan vineyards have higher rates of fungal disease, yield is typically low,” which means the grapes that survive are particularly precious.

Michelle Moyer, a WSU statewide viticulture extension specialist, has developed a presentation for the national eXtension Grape Community of Practice (GCoP) that offers troops a general introduction to vine biology, how grapes are grown, potential threats to grape production and specifics of Afghan grape production. An organization of 87 grape production professionals from 31 states and Ontario, Canada, the GCoP will distribute Moyer’s presentation to its members at universities and government agencies for their troop training efforts.

“Specific information on Afghan grape production is important for developing cultural and production sensitivity in deploying U.S. troops,” Moyer said. “Grapes are the leading horticulture crop for Afghanistan, but their production systems are not like those U.S. citizens would be accustomed to seeing.

Troops learn to be sensitive to water rights issues that might affect grape production. They also learn what an Afghan vineyard looks like, which might seem obvious but is not. The vines are not necessarily trained along the neat post and wire trellises familiar in the U.S.. Instead they are likely to grow up around the through trees, as they do in nature. Or they may be “bush” or head-trained like the vines in the photo above. Easy for an untrained eye to mistake an Afghan vineyard for something else.  Troops also learn about the high market value of raisins and why farmers might be especially protective of them.

“By providing information regarding what our troops might encounter while on the ground in Afghanistan, we can reduce the likelihood of a negative impact on production for this very important crop,” she added. “This sensitivity is critical in rebuilding economic and agricultural stability that is necessary for the overall long-term stability of a country.”

Congratulations to Michelle Moyer and her colleagues for creating this innovative program that will hopefully encourage peace and understanding through viticulture.

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3 responses

  1. Book titles are not descriptive of the contents, necessarily. “Wine” and “Wars” are alliterative, dramatic and recalled easily (“catchy”). I don’t know whether wine is a associated with armed conflict more than any other business competition or team sport (I haven’t researched the connections or analyzed any data statistically), although, I doubt that it is.

  2. I enjoyed your article. Perhaps the connection between wine and war might be more about the ownership and control of the land rather than wine itself?
    Moyer’s presentation would most likely be very good for all areas of agriculture. Troops should try to be sensitive to the culture and needs of the local people wherever they are.
    I am looking forward to finding out more about Vino della Pace.
    Cheers!

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