History of grape cultivation
Father Franciscus Verburch is believed to have introduced viticulture to the Westland region and is honoured with a statue in the centre of his benefice, the village of Poeldijk. In 1647, he was appointed the first Catholic priest in the Westland region since the Reformation.
Grape production in the Westland region peaked in 1936, when 22 million kilograms were harvested. After the Second World War, grape cultivation largely disappeared from the Netherlands, mainly due to increasing competition from outdoor grapes from more southerly countries and an increase in more profitable crops (e.g. tomatoes). The acreage devoted to greenhouse grapes in the Netherlands has fallen dramatically and is currently estimated at just 20 hectares. Viticulture was once of great economic importance. Until the Second World War, most of the acreage under glass in Westland was devoted to grape cultivation.
Grape cultivation in the Westland
In 1828, Westland was mentioned as a centre for grape cultivation in a treatise on ‘The State of Agriculture in the Kingdom of Holland’. The grapes were primarily exported to England. Grapes quickly became one of the most important products of the Westland region, laying the foundations for what is now the largest and most important horticultural centre in the world: Greenport Westland.
Growth and decline in acreage
Until the beginning of the last century, cultivation was limited, but in the first half of the 20th century, it grew rapidly. Vine cultivation turned the Westland into a true grape region from 1900 to 1960, with thousands of small, glass greenhouses (conservatories). Production in the Westland region peaked in 1936, when 22 million kg were harvested. After the Second World War, grape cultivation largely disappeared from the Netherlands, mainly due to increasing competition from outdoor grapes from countries further south, and the spread of more profitable crops. The acreage devoted to greenhouse grapes in the Netherlands has fallen dramatically and is currently estimated at just 20 hectares. Viticulture was once of great economic importance.
Care and entertainment
Millions of kilos of grapes were lovingly cared for in the greenhouses by thousands of growers and their families. For the time-consuming task of pruning the developing grape clusters (known as thinning), children were given a special day off school to allow the labour-intensive job to be performed by everyone, young and old.
The Westland grape harvest festival was celebrated each year by the ‘Brotherhood of the Purple Grape’ in Naaldwijk. Festivities included the naming of an attractive grape princess, grape-sampling sessions and a parade with floats.
Memories of the grape thinning season
Now in the 21st century, cultivation has all but disappeared. Although there are still a few professional grape growers, most do it as a hobby. In 2008 a book was published, entitled ‘Memories of the Grape Thinning Season’. It offers a unique overview in words and images of 100 years of grape thinning in the Westland. The book is available at the pavilion of Theme park De Westlandse Druif , priced €19.95. It’s a beautiful reference work and makes a perfect gift.
Westlandse Druif back on the map
Competition from countries in the south and the rise of more profitable crops such as tomatoes and later dozens of other vegetables, flowers and plants led to the practical disappearance of grape cultivation. Stichting De Westlandse Druif, the Westlandse Druif Foundation, felt that this unique form of cultivation in the cradle of worldwide glasshouse horticulture, should not be allowed to disappear altogether. The surprising taste, the beautifully formed, dew-laden clusters; this healthy fruit needed to be put back on the map.
Westland’s Glory, as the grapes are also known, deserved a place as an exceptionally tasty, healthy and sustainable product, especially taking into account the rich cultural history, greenhouse cultivation, and beautiful, unique example of the many delicious products that Greenport Westland will continue to provide in the future. Enjoy them and savour the love and care that have gone into producing them.