Tonic Wine

 ‘You bring forth bread from the earth, and wine to cheer man’s heart’ (Psalm 103)

How it began

The story of Buckfast Tonic Wine begins in 1897, when the nephew of a French monk visited Buckfast Abbey in Devon, and brought with him a recipe for a Tonic Wine.

There had been a monastic institution at Buckfast since pre-conquest times, and those monks were originally wool farmers. The location of the Abbey was ideal for this enterprise, using the moors to run their sheep, having a sheltered site to produce the wool, the river Dart to wash the wool, and the port of Plymouth nearby to export it.

In France, in the late 19th century, anti-clerical laws brought about severe attacks upon the Catholic Church. A group of Benedictine monks near Dijon were forced out of their Abbey; they fled France and went to Dublin. In the early 1880’s the French monks heard that the property of Buckfast Abbey was on the market ,and in 1882 acquired it and moved to Devon. At this time, they were making a living by producing liniments and medicines. One of these was a wine-based recipe that eventually evolved into Buckfast Tonic Wine.

Early 1930s

In the early 1930’s, the monks were working hard at trying to sell their Tonic Wine. Their recipe was more medicinal, and the severe licensing laws introduced after the war made it impossible for the monks to obtain a licence. It was at this point through a chance visit to the Abbey that a partnership was developed between the Abbey and wine merchants J. Chandler & Company Ltd.

J. Chandler & Co Ltd was a London based wine merchant which Mr Robert Joyce acquired in the early 1920’s. It was during a holiday to the West Country that Robert Joyce and his daughter Gertrude visited Buckfast Abbey. The monks were selling off the last of their tonic wine stock; Robert Joyce asked why they wouldn’t be selling it any more. Once he was told about the problem of obtaining a licence, he suggested that J. Chandler & Co Ltd could sell it for them. Discussions began; after months of negotiations and the decision to reformulate the tonic wine away from its medicinal origins, they set up a separate company, J. Chandler & Co (Buckfast) Ltd, and began selling the much-improved Buckfast Tonic Wine.