Not Taking Prohibition Lion-Down
Prohibition, in any form, very rarely works. No government in history has truly been able to tackle man’s force of will, nor factored in the lengths humanity will go to get a drink. Perhaps the most famous example of prohibition was, of course, in America throughout the twenties. Here whole industries struck up in order to lubricate thirsty throats, in direct opposition to the law. Love wine? Then why not buy yourself a prohibition ‘wine brick’ – a block of solid “wine” which could be added to water to make God only knows what. Indeed, the only reason we still have the Old Vines of California was that they were ‘apparently’ used to make Communion Wine and so spared the dreaded vine-pull.
But for my favourite take on prohibition I’m looking further east, and a lot further back in time. Bulgaria, in the 9th Century AD to be precise. Bulgaria at the time was forging an Empire and at its head sat a indomitable and undeniably charismatic ruler – Khan Krum the Formidable. A ferociously warlike individual who waged war on most of his neighbours including the Armenians and Byzantines. He was able to double the size of Bulgaria during his reign, and laid the foundations of law and state which would last for centuries. He also made a cup to drink wine from out of the skull of the defeated Emperor Nikephorus, lined with gold. This is a man who didn’t do things by halves. When sourcing material for his character ‘Khal Drogo’ in Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin may well have started here.
So far so good then for our Emperor. But his ‘formidable’ attitude towards international policy also extended to the home front. Apparently infuriated with his population’s fixation on robbery, slander and drunkenness – Krum began his own period of prohibition, ordering the destruction of the entire country’s vineyards. Except, of course, some people ignored this proclamation. And according to legend at least, it was just as well that they did. For Krum had forgotten the golden rule of statecraft; never accidentally release one of your royal caged lions on a scared, sober and weapon-less population. Queue carnage, blood and terror. All except for one man, Mavrud. Buoyed by his mother’s secret stash of wine made from her hidden vines, Mavrud confronted the lion and was able to kill it, saving many a poor Bulgarian peasant life in the bargain.
Krum immediately ordered Mavrud’s mother to his Court to answer for her son’s crime, as it was after all, a royal lion he had put down. When the mother told the Emperor how the lion was on a bloody rampage that only her brave son was able to stop,
Krum wanted to know the source of this heroism. His mother disclosed the truth of the hidden wine and so impressed with this act of drunken animal cruelty was he that he repealed his ban on the vine. Krum needed his people to be brave, warlike and, crucially, drunk.
Modern day Bulgaria has a flourishing wine industry and whatever the truth in this folk tale is, it helps to add flavour and colour to a truly ancient viticultural area. Mavrud, the hero of the tale, lent his name to one of the countries red grape varieties which is now being used to make powerful, age-worthy wines. It’s perhaps a nice thought, that the name of a peasant who fought a lion is on the lips of more Bulgarians today, than a formidable Emperor who forged a country through war and novelty, gory drinking vessels.