Home > History of Wine, Image > The Dutch Wine Trade in the 17th Century

The Dutch Wine Trade in the 17th Century


The Eighty Years’ War began as the Dutch revolted against King Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands.   The spice trade was dominated by the Portuguese at the time.  They used Antwerp as an important distribution center.  The Portuguese eventually united with the Spanish and in 1591 stopped distributing through Antwerp.  Instead switched to German, Spanish, and Italian firms based in Hamburg.

With the Dutch cut off from trade, the demand for and pricing of spices rose.  Merchant fleets were succesfully sent out resulting in risky but highly profitable trade.  In1602 the Dutch government charted the United East Indies Company with a monopoly over Asian trade.  In 1621 the Charted West India Company was formed.

The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies on 19 July 1599, Andries van Eertvelt, 1610-1620

The Dutch blocked off the river access to Antwerp in 1609 to prevent the Spanish from accessing supplies.  This caused trade to move to the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.  Despite the continued war with Spain the merchant fleet continued to grow.  By the end of the Eighty Years’ War in 1648 the fleet had reached a staggering 10,000 ships in size.

Amersterdam 1645, Toonneel der Steden van de Vereenighde Nederlanden

They shipped Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhine wine, Greek wine, Malaga from Spain, and Marsala from Italy all over the world.  They traded with Germany, Sweden, England, and the Baltic, amongst others.  They also imported wine for themselves.  Rotterdam was the chief port for wine as it lies at the mouth of the Rhine.

Rotterdam 1645, Toonneel der Steden van de Vereenighde Nederlanden

The easy access along the Rhine river helped develop a taste for sweet, white wines.  When the Thirty Years’ War devasted the Rhineland they looked elsewhere.  Farmers in Bergerac and Sauternes switched from red to white grapes.  The Dutch would add sulphur to stabilize the wine and prevent it from finishing fermentation.

Governors of the Wine Merchants Guild, 1663, Ferdinand Bol, Alte Pinakothek

The also traded in distilled spirits and supplies for distilling.  They bought cheap wine from all over France, traded in Swedish copper to make stills, and used the forests of Armagnac and Cognac to fuel their stills. 

17th Century Dutch Still in Charente

The distilled spirits and fortified wines traveled well to the corners of the world.

Dutch Merchant Ships in Table Bay, 1683, Aernout Smith

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  1. October 19, 2014 at 6:27 pm

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