Holland (the heartland of today's Netherlands) had great influence on the spirits and wine trade in the late Middle Ages. From the end of the 16th century, Holland rose to become the leading maritime power far ahead of England, France, Portugal and Spain. Around 1650, Holland had the largest merchant fleet in the world with around 10,000 ships. Alcoholic beverages were purchased all over Europe and transported by ships to the colonies in North America, the Dutch Indies (Indonesia), New Zealand and Tasmania. Likewise, the Dutch were the main suppliers to the European countries. The port of Rotterdam developed into a main transhipment centre for wine. The Dutch were great masters of distillation and produced huge quantities of genever (grain wine) and brandewijn (brandy), which was used either neat or as an addition to wine and drinking water. The resulting shelf life was a prerequisite for the long sea voyages.
Influence on European viticulture
As a result, the spriting of wines such as Malaga, Madeira, Port and Sherry became popular. The triumph of cognac is also due to the Dutch, who inspired the winegrowers of the Charente to distil their wine. The English contributed to its perfection, importing cognac in large quantities and setting certain quality standards. In order to increase the supply of popular wines, blending with simple wines was practised excessively. The Dutch also adapted quickly and flexibly to consumer demands. When the demand for sack (fortified wines from Spain) and sweet wines increased in England in the 16th century, such wines were imported on a large scale from Spain, the Canary Islands, the Portuguese island of Madeira and the Greek island of Crete. As a result, Holland played a significant role in the development of certain types of wine and acquired extensive knowledge regarding storage, transport and trade. Due to their special knowledge of this technique, it was also the Dutch who drained the swamps in the French Médoc in the middle of the 17th century and created the basis for the rapid upswing in viticulture. There is evidence of viticulture in the southern province of Limburg from 1324.