Lead: History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Lead has been associated with wine since the time of Ancient rome. The Romans recognized that lead not only prevented wines from turning sour (and rescued those that already had) but also made them taste sweeter (see pliny). What they did not know, however, is that, even when taken in only very small quantities over a long period, lead is a poison.

Its dangers were understood from the end of the 17th century when a German doctor, Eberhard Gockel of Ulm in Württemberg, noticed that the symptoms suffered by some of his wine-drinking patients matched those observed in lead miners. Gradually legislation was passed in Europe banning the use of lead in wine but the practice continued. At last, in 1820, the campaigner Frederick Accum complained that ‘the merchant or dealer who practises this dangerous sophistication, adds the crime of murder to that of fraud’.