Wine and Vinland in “Is L'Anse aux Meadows Vinland?”

[ Map, North America and Greenland ]

Map, North America and Greenland, Google Earth, modified by R. Ferguson, Google Earth

There have been two interpretations of the name Vínland. Most scholars have read it as Vínland, with an accent indicating a long í. Another way to write the name would therefore be Viinland. Vín with a long í means ‘wine’ in Old Norse. There is another older word vin, with a short i, which means ‘meadow’ or ‘grassy place’. This word does not exist in the Old Norse of the Viking Age […]

Today, Norse philologists agree that Vínland means ‘Land of Wine’. This can also be seen in the Flateyjarbók manuscript where Vínland is written Vijnland with double i. If ‘meadow’ was intended as part of the name, it would not have been written as Vínland but Vinjaland or Vinjarland (dependant upon whether ‘pastures’ are meant to be plural or singular in form).

The great emphasis in the sagas on vínvíđ, the trees the grapes grew on, is also a clear indication that Vínland refers to grapes and wine. The grapes were collected and the vínvíđ (‘grape wood’) felled for lumber. This has puzzled many scholars who pictured grapes on vines in vinyards. The solution is simple. In the wild, grapes grow in wooded areas, their vines winding themselves around the tree trunks, sometimes to the top of the trees. It does indeed look as if the grapes are growing on the trees. Since wild grapes grow among deciduous trees, they can be found in the same areas as valuable hard lumber such as maple and oak. These are the vínvíđ, the grape trees of the sagas, and the sagas attach as great significance to them as to the grapes.

[…] Wine was not just a festive drink in Norse society but a crucial ingredient in the Norse political and religious power structures. […] Ostentatious displays of wealth in the form of stately halls, furnishings and luxurious clothing was another way to retain predominance. […] religious worship consisted in part of communal banquets given by and presided over by the chieftain […] This banqueting custom was […] a means for the chief to show his superior status as the generous host of abundant and exotic foods. Imported luxuries were walnuts (which do not grow north of Denmark and southernmost Sweden), salt, spices, honey, bread (made from imported flour) and ample quantities of mead, beer, and wine. The wine was imported either from Germany or France and was especially treasured because of its intoxicating qualities and its association with divine powers and because it was such a rare and expensive item. For someone like Leifr Eiríksson […] unlimited access to wine would have been a heavenly gift. No wonder he named the land Vínland hins góđa (‘the good’) after its precious treasure. […]

Source: Birgitta Linderoth Wallace, "[Wine and Vinland] in Is L'Anse aux Meadows Vinland?" in Westward Vikings: The Saga of L'Anse aux Meadows, (St John's: Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2006), 104-105.

Return to parent page