History of Wine – Modern Wine Regions

Tuscany Italy wine

Wine production has a long history, as we discussed in our previous posts (The Beginning, The Medieval, The Modern Era). We saw how viticulture and wine production came from the east to Ancient Greece and Rome, spread to other European countries and was then brought to the Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

During this long journey, wine regions emerged and disappeared and finally lead to the modern wine map that we know today.

The main winemaking regions are in Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The biggest wine producing country in 2014 based on volumes was France, followed by Italy, Spain, USA and Argentina (source OIV, 2014).


In Europe, we have some of the most ancient winemaking regions, many of which are still leading in terms of quality and quantity. There are many wine producing countries in Europe, with the most significant among them being France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as high quality winemaking in Hungary and Germany.


France is one of the largest wine producers in the word with 40-50 million hectolitres per year. France’s winemaking history dates back to the 6th century BC with the introduction of Greek settlers’ viticulture. It was influenced by the Greeks and Romans, but France’s monks had an incredible impact on winemaking in the Middle Ages by preserving winemaking knowledge during this ‘dark’ period in European history.

France had a huge impact on the worldwide dissemination of winemaking practices and styles and grape varieties (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah).

In the 19th century, mildew and phylloxera ravaged most of the vineyards throughout Europe, and France was not spared either. Later, due to an economic downturn and two world wars, the French wine industry stopped for several decades. However, thanks to significant investments and the economic upturn after World War II, French winemaking re-emerged, leading France to become the leading country in terms of wine.

In France there are many wine regions, the most significant being Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne.

The most popular grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.




Italy and France are the biggest wine producers in the world in terms of volume (40-50 million hectolitres per year). Italy has some of the oldest winemaking regions in the world.

As we discussed in our previous post, ‘History of Wine’, the biggest influencers on winemaking on the Italian peninsula before the Romans were the Ancient Greeks, the Etruscans and Carthaginians. Since those times, the Italian peninsula has been one of the most significant winemaking regions.

Thanks to the favourable climate, grapes are grown throughout Italy, with more than one million cultivated vineyards. We can find excellent wine almost everywhere, but Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto are the most significant in terms of quality and quantity. All regions have their own specialities, like Chianti, Brunello and Vino Nobilem in Tuscany; Moscato d’Asti and Barbaresco in Piedmont; and Prosecco, Soave and Amarone della Valpolicella in Veneto.

The best known Italian grapes are Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Pinot Grigio.


Spain is the 3rd largest wine producer in the world in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014).

Earliest grape cultivation on the Iberian Peninsula dates back sometime between 4,000 and 3,000 BC. Later, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and then the Romans significantly influenced viticulture here.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Spain was invaded by barbarian tribes, which lead to a decline in Spanish wine production.

However, winemaking began to develop again following the Spanish Reconquista, as did Spanish wine exports.

After the Reconquista, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World under the name of the Spanish crown, and this opened more export markets and wine production possibilities. Spanish conquistadors and missionaries colonised the new lands, brought grape wines and began winemaking. Later, wine production became so successful in some counties, such as Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina, that it posed a threat to Spanish wine production and exports. Consequently, the Spanish Crown banned the establishment of new vineyards in the Americas, but the order was ignored in some countries.

In the 17th-18th century, Spanish wine started to become more and more popular, and they had a major turning point in the mid 19th century when phylloxera struck the European vineyards, mostly those in France. Due to the lack of French wines, Spanish wine exports grew significantly.

The Spanish wine industry had its ups and downs in the 20th century, but Spanish wine has today become one of the world leaders in terms of quantity and quality thanks to the modernisation in the 1970s and 1980s and subsequent development.

Due to the favourable climatic conditions, almost every region in Spain produces wine, but the most significant ones are Rioja, Galicia, Catalonia, Andalucía and Castilla y Leon.

The most important Spanish red wine varieties are Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha and Monastrell, and for white wines are Airen, Macabeo, Palomino and Albarino.


 Portugal is the 11th biggest winemaker in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014).

Wine production has existed on the Iberian Peninsula since around 2,000 BC. Since those times, the Phoenicians, Ancient Greeks, Celts and Romans have had a significant influence on Portuguese winemaking.

One significant impact on the development of wine production and trade has been Portugal’s relationship with England. As the weather was very unfavourable for viticulture, England was always forced to import wine. Due to their fragile political and military situation with France, they had to find other wine sources. Consequently, the import of Portuguese wine began in the 12th century and the relationship between the two counties in terms of the wine trade has continued since then. The most popular fortified wines in England have been Port and Madira.

Later on, exports to the Portuguese colonies in South America and West Africa also proved significant.

Unfortunately the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century devastated the vineyards in Portugal as in most of Europe.

During the 20th century, Portugal experienced a slump, but Portuguese wine has been rising again in the 21st century, mostly due to dry red wines from Duoro and Dao.

Today, the most important Portuguese wine regions are beyond Duoro and Dao and include Bairrada, Alentejo, Ribatejo and Estremandura.


Germany is the 10th biggest worldwide wine producer in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014), while German wine has a mixed reputation regarding quality. However, the country’s wine is certainly well known, primarily for its excellent Riesling produced in the Mosel region.

German viticulture dates back to the Ancient Roman times. The oldest plantations were established along the river Rhine in the west Germany. During the Medieval era, churches and monasteries played a significant role in viticulture.

The most important grape variety, Riesling, was documented in 1435, and it subsequently became the most important variety in Germany.

In the 18th and 19th century, German wine was famous and highly valued, but it lost its way in quality terms in the 20th century. Germany faced many difficulties, as did other European counties, but it also started to produce and export lower quality white wine, which lessened its reputation.

However, later in the 20th century significant efforts were made to re-gain Germany’s former glory, and to concentrate more on quality rather then quantity.

Germany has 13 wine regions, with the most famous being the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region and the Rheingau region.



Tokaj Hungary

Hungary is around the 15th biggest wine producer in the world in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014).

Today Hungary is best known for its sweet wines produced in the Tokaj region.

Wine culture in this region dates back to Ancient Roman times or possibly even to the Ancient Greeks. By the Middle Ages, Hungarian wine and winemaking was known in the area.

Hungarian viticulture has survived many political and religious challenges, such as Islamic Turkish rules, communism and, along with the rest of Europa, the phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century.

Today, 20 years after the collapse of communism, Hungarian winemakers have recovered the traditions and skills that existed before collectivisation, so Hungarian wine is regaining its reputation.

The most important wine regions area are Tokaj, Eger, Villány and Szekszárd.

North America


The USA is the 4th biggest wine producer worldwide in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014). There is some wine production in many states of the USA, but 88.5% of all US wine is produced in California.

As we discussed in one of our previous blogpost ‘History of Wine – The Modern Era’, settlers in the New World first began serious winemaking in South America, mainly in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

The earliest winemaking on the territory that is now the United States dates back to the 2nd part of the 16th century in Florida.

The first vineyard and winery in California was established by Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary at the end of the 18th century.

In 1830, the first commercially successful winery was founded by Nicholas Longworth near Cincinnati, Ohio.

However, American winemaking faced difficulties as phylloxera, which ultimately reached the US, and prohibition, the ban on the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.

As a result, American wine production needed a few decades to reach the reputation that it has today. Research by universities and seminars (University of California and in other state universities in New York) on viticulture and winemaking techniques certainly helped in this process. From the 1970s, Californian wine became more well known and recognised. The big turning point was in 1976 in the famous ‘Judgment of Paris’, when French wine experts scored more Californian wine higher than the top Bordeaux and white Burgundy on blind testing.

California accounts for 88.5% of US wine production, followed by New York, Washington and Oregon.

South America


Argentina is the 5th largest wine producer in the world and the largest in South America (OIV, 2014).

Viticulture was brought to Argentina during the Spanish colonisation. The first vineyard was established in 1556 by Father Juan Cedron on the territory that is now the San Juan and Mendoza wine region.

Around 1557, the first commercial vineyard was established at Santiago del Estero, which was soon followed by the expansion of the vineyards in Medoza and San Juan.

Around this time, the French agronomist, Miguel Aime Pouget, brought the first Malbec grapevine cutting from Bordeaux, which is now the grape of Argentina’s most famous wines.

Argentina’s wine production remained slow until the 1800s, and it only increased a little after Malbec’s introduction to Europe in the early 1900s. However, it remained stagnant throughout the century.

The first wave of European immigrants arrived in the 19th century, many of whom were Italian and brought their expertise and winemaking knowledge with them.

However, until recently, Argentinian wines were only sold domestically; there was no focus on exporting.

The past 20 years has seen had an incredible growth in the Argentinian wine industry, with the quality level being increased and the international export market consolidated, so that now Argentina is among the 5 biggest wine producing countries in the world.

The most important wine regions are Mendoza and San Juan.


Chile is the 7th biggest wine producer worldwide in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014).

As in case of other New World countries, Vitis vinifera vines were brought by Spanish missionaries and conquistadors around the 16th century. Viticulture only began to expand in Chile in the 19th century.

Chilean winemaking has been profoundly influenced by the French, mostly by Bordeaux winemaking. Before the phylloxera epidemic, many Chilean landowners made visits to France and began to import French vines to plant. After the epidemic, many French winemakers travelled to Chile, bringing their winemaking techniques and experiences.

Up to the 20th century, Chilean wine was limited to the domestic market, but they ventured into the international market following progress in quality.

In the past decade, cheap prices as well as foreign influence and expertise have transformed Chile into one of the most important wine producing countries in South America, and one of the biggest wine exporters in the word.

In Chile, there are 14 wine regions throughout the country.

South Africa


South Africa is the 8th biggest winemaker in quantity (OIV, 2014).

As we discussed in our previous blog post ‘History of wine: The Modern Era’, South African wine dates back to the middle of the 17th century, when the first vines were planted by Dutch settlers.

The first wine estate was in Constantia, where the ‘Vin de Constance’ dessert wine is produced. The other historic region is Stellerbosch where the first vineyards were planted in the 1690s.

South African wine production faced many difficulties in the 19th and 20th century. In 1860, phylloxera reached the country, killing nearly all production of Vin de Constance.

South African wine only began to be recognised worldwide around the end of the 20th century when Apartheid ended. Today it is among the 10 largest wine producers and is one of the most prominent in terms of quality.

Most of the wine regions, and the country’s two most famous wine regions, Stellenbosch and Paarl, are located in the Western Cape region.

Australia, New Zealand

Australia is the 6th largest wine producer in terms of quantity (OIV, 2014).

As we discussed in the blogpost ‘History of wine: Modern Era’, Australian viticulture began at the end of the 18th century and the first available domestic wine dates back to the early 19th century.

The Australian wine industry received a big push with the arrival of European settlers who established many of Australia’s best winemaking regions, and Australian wine began to receive more and more recognition as a result. Since then, Australia has become one of the world leaders in terms quantity and quality, with its particular emphasis on biodynamic wines.

Wine is produced in every state, 60 wine regions in all, but the best wine regions are mainly in the southern parts of the country.

Wine production in New Zealand dates back to the middle of the 19th century, but wine production was mostly consumed locally until the end of the 20th century.

Since 1970, the New Zealand wines have been exported.

Wine is produced in 10 regions in New Zealand, with the most important being Marlborough.



Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine

Phillips, A Short History of Wine

Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine


Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany, Italy

Tokaj, Hungary

Stellenbosch, South Africa

History of Wine: The Modern Era

Santa Maria Novella

In European history, the modern era starts with the Renaissance or the discovery of the New World in 1492.

Despite the crisis in the Late Middle Ages, the 14th century saw great progress in art and science.

This is one of the most exciting and rich periods in history, full of new inventions, discoveries and full of great minds, great artists and brilliant polyhistors. It represents one of the most effervescent periods in human history in terms of culture, art and science.

The cultural, intellectual and art ‘reformation’ in the period that became known as the era of Humanism and Renaissance began in the affluent cities of Northern Italy in the 14th century. The word ‘Humanism’ derives from the Latin word ‘humanus’, meaning ‘human’, and means a new philosophy and way of thinking in which the human, the individual, is in the centre. ‘Renaissance’ is the French variant of the Italian word ‘Rinascimento’, meaning rebirth and signifies the renewed interest in Classical culture and a new approach to the individual in arts.

The Renaissance emerged in those parts of Europe that were most developed in terms of trade, industry and economy, with strong bourgeoisie and rich in Classical records. From this intellectual bourgeoisie class or through their financial support emerged a class that created new, enduring values for European culture.

From the 15th century, the new philosophy spread to other countries and courts throughout Europe.

This is the era of Petrarch, Boccaccio, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and many other great minds.

Renaissance people looked at a person as an individual, as the centre of the universe, and emerged from the severely directed rules of the Middle Ages by developing a different relationship with God and discovering the values and joys of life.

And it is during the Renaissance when wine finally retook its rightful place in culture and everyday life. Wine and beer were part of the Renaissance man’s diet. In general, the upper class consumed wine while the lower class drank beer. Wine consumption increased compared to the Middle Ages, with daily consumption averaging between a half and 2 litres per person in the 15th century.

Usually, freshly made wine was consumed, as wine did not age well in wooden barrels, often turning into vinegar. This was shown in the prices, as new wine was around eight times more expensive than old wine.

Wine production developed significantly due to the developed skills of Renaissance farmers, economic growth, more profitable trade and the appetite for luxury goods.

Wine, as a part of life, also entered into the arts. Renaissance art reflected contemporary wine culture from representations in the Bible and classical mythology to everyday life. In Catholic countries, the main wine related themes were the Last Supper, the Marriage at Cana or the Drunkenness of Noah.

Marriage at cana Veronese

Towards the end of the Renaissance, a new European historical period – the Era of Discovery – began with Portuguese and Spanish discoveries.

The growth of the Ottoman Empire cut off trading routes to the east, so Western Europe was forced to find solutions and introduce new trading opportunities. In 1492, in the year when Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent), one of the most powerful and enthusiastic patrons of the Renaissance died, another Italian, Christopher Columbus, discovered a new world, America, and claimed it for the Spanish crown. In 1498, Vasco da Gama circumnavigated Africa and sailed onwards to India. With the Age of Discovery, a new chapter began in human history.

And so opened a new era in the world of wine also.

Despite many wars, Europe kept exploring and conquering huge parts of Africa, Asia and America. These were followed by exploration of Oceania by France, England and the Netherlands, reaching Australia in 1606 and New Zealand in 1642.


 Despite the fact that ‘vitis genus’ species existed in Venezuela, Colombia, Central America and Mexico, the indigenous peoples of the Americas did not ferment these species and so did not make wine.

The Spanish conquistadors brought the Old World’s food and plants for self consumption, so they brought wine, but transportation of it was difficult.

As the wine supply for the Eucharist was crucial, they needed to find a solution to establish wine production in the New World.

The first attempt to grow grapes was in Hispaniola (modern-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) during the second voyage of Columbus in 1494.

The first successfully established vineyards by the Spanish conquistadors in America were on territory that is now Mexico. The following waves of immigrants also imported French, Italian and German grapes.

By the 16th century, Mexico had become one of the most important wine producers, and this even started to effect Spanish commercial production.

By the second half of the 16th century, Peru, Chile and Argentina seemed to be more successful as Spanish settlers established more and more vineyards.

South American wine making became so successful than the Spanish Crown banned the further establishment of vineyards in 1595, but this order was ignored. The reason for the ban was to protect Spanish wine from mainly strong Peruvian competition.

Unfortunately, the Peruvian ‘wine-boom’ ceased following a huge earthquake in 1687. Within 100 years, Peru was even forced to import wine from Chile to ensure the supply, which highlighted the emergence of Chile as a significant wine making region.

By the 20th century, the dominant wine producer countries in America were Argentina, Chile and the United States, with Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia and Mexico lagging behind.

South Africa

In the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company established a supply station in the territory that is now Cape Town. Dutch surgeon Jan van Riebeeck managed the station and planted vineyards to produce wines and grapes with the primary aim of preventing scurvy among sailors during the long voyage.

The next governor, Van der Stel, continued the work, even improving the quality of viticulture in the region. In 1685, Van der Stel purchased 750 hectares of land outside Cape Town and established the Constantia wine estate.

But the South African wine industry didn’t experience ongoing development during the centuries, and it had many ups and downs.

Up to the end of the 20th century, South African wine didn’t received much worldwide attention, but when Apartheid ended the world’s export market opened up and South African wines began to experience success.

Australia, New Zealand

The first attempt of wine making in Australia was around 1788 in New South Wales when wine cuttings were brought by Governor Phillips.

This first attempt failed, but later other settlers started successful wine making, so Australian wine became available domestically around 1820.

In 1822, wine exports started when Gregory Blaxland introduced Australian wine to the world wine market and won the first overseas award.

Australian wine production began to develop, and quality and production improved with the arrival of settlers from around Europe with their wine making skills and knowledge.

In New Zealand around 1830, the British oenologist James Busby first attempted to produce wine.

The oldest existing vineyard there was established by French Roman Catholic missionaries in Hawke’s Bay.

In 1883, William Henry Beetham was the first to plant Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes at his Lansdowne vineyard.

In 1895, the expert viticulturist and oenologist Romeo Bragato was invited by the New Zealand government to assess the winemaking possibilities. Bragato concluded his investigation that New Zealand was ideally suited for viticulture.

But New Zealand wine had to wait until 1960-70 to experience real wine growth.

In the modern times, wine production and consumption have seen enormous progress and growth worldwide. We will examine today’s wine regions in our next blog.



  1. Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine

Sandra Sider, Handbook to life in Renaissance Europe

John Varriano, Wine: A Cultural History



Santa Maria Novella, Florance, foto: flckr

Paolo Veronese, Marriage at Cana, foto: flckr

History of Wine: The Medieval

The Medieval or Middle Ages was the middle period in the three traditional divisions of European history between the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD) in the 5th century and the beginning of the Renaissance and Age of Discovery in the 15th century. The Medieval is also divided into 3 periods: Early, High and Late Middle Ages.

The Early Middle Ages is known as the period of the so-called barbarian invasions, depopulation and movement of people. From 19th century, people often referred to the whole Medieval period as ‘The Dark Ages’, but this refers only to the Early Middle Ages among historians.

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, viticulture fell into deep crisis.

Wine production faced difficulties in the turmoil of the time, as viticulture and wine making are a very time consuming process.

As a result of the barbarian invasions and the migration of people, new nutritional habits and traditions were introduced. These also affected wine drinking, as the consumption of beer and honey beer became more common.

However, as the celebration of the Catholic Mass required wine, a continuous supply of wine was essential, which helped and promoted wine production. In fact, it could be argued that usage in mass saved wine production.

Many monastic orders began serious, high quality wine production, such as the Benedictines (established in 529 AD), Cistercians (established in 1098 AD), Carthusians (established in 1084 AD), Knights Templar (established 1119 AD) and Carmelites (late 12th century).

Benedictine and Cistercian monks became the largest producers of wine in France and Germany.

The Benedictine order owned many vineyards in France (Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux) in Germany (Rheingau and Franconia).

An interesting fact is that Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk (Dom Pierre Perignon, 1638-1715) who promoted the production and quality of champagne wine. The famous Dom Perignon champagne is named after him, but it is a myth to credit him with the invention of sparking champagne, as this only became the dominant style in Champagne in the 19th century.

Dom Perignon

In the Middle Ages, the usage of wine also had an important and necessary role, as it has antiseptic properties. As the water in the cities was not clean, it was consumed by mixing it with wine.

In the development of viticulture in Middle Ages, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), who was King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, also deserves credit, as he significantly promoted wine production and trading around 800 AD.



But a real rebirth in viticulture and wine production truly began around the 11th century, when new vineyards areas started to develop, and new commercial roads opened.

The transport of wine also developed, as regions, cities or towns next to rivers or the sea were in favourable locations. From this period, Dutch traders began to have a greater role in the wine trade, which after the Hundred Years’ War make them the dominant force in the trading of wine.

The subsequent decades brought economic crisis, but what followed was one of the most exciting and rich eras in culture and science: the Renaissance, and the Age of Discovery. Let’s see in our next post what this thrilling period brought to the world of wine…..




Phillips, A Short History of Wine

Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine



The statue ot Dom Perignon, outside the Moet & Chandon champagne house, Flickr, Photo: Dan Dickinson

Statue of Charlemagne, Hamburg’s Town Hall, Flickr, photo: ptwo



History of Wine: The Beginning

‘In vino veritas’ is a wise old saying used in many languages, meaning ‘in wine, truth’. Wine is a wonderful gift from nature, with human expertise. Consuming it moderately does make life richer.

Wine has been a part of our history for millennia, and organically part of our culture and cuisine.

Wine and altered consciousness have been considered mystical and religious since people began fermenting grapes. The Ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysos, the Romans had Bacchus and ritual wine consumption was part of the Jewish tradition, as in Jesus’ Last Supper, which is an integral part of the liturgy of the Christian Church.

Wine has had an important role throughout our history, but real wine production and consumption increased from the 15th century: let us now look back at its origins.

The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production is from Armenia (6,100 BC), Georgia (6,000 BC) and Iran (5,000 BC).

The word’s oldest known winery was discovered in the Areni-1 cave, Vayots Dror province, Armenia, and it dates to 4,100 BC. It contained a wine press, fermentation vats, jars and cups, and vitis vinifera seeds were also found.

In ancient times, the reputation of Armenian wine was very well known.

Domesticated grapes were prevalent in the Middle East – in Sumer and Egypt – from the beginning of the Bronze Age.

In antiquity, wine making and consumption began to have a greater role in major empires, like those of Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, China, Greece and Rome.

 Ancient Egypt:

In Egypt, grape cultivation was introduced from the Levant (historical geographical term for the Eastern Mediterranean) around 3,000 BC. A royal wine making industry developed in the Nile Delta. The flourishing wine making industry is shown on scenes found on tombs walls, depicting grape cultivation, wine making and commerce.

Wine in Ancient Egypt was definitely red, but some clay amphorae with traces of white wine were found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.


Ancient Phoenicia (modern-day Syria and Lebanon) had a significant impact on the history of wine. Thanks to its great geographical position, Phoenicians developed a maritime trading culture between 1,550 BC and 300 BC, expanding their influence from the Levant to North Africa, the Greek Isles, Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula.

Wine was considered a worthy offering to God or kings, which increased its trade value in the ancient world. By 1,000 BC, the Mediterranean wine trade significantly increased, and so did the Phoenicians’ extensive maritime trade network. They didn’t only trade with wine produced in Canaan, but also wine from their colonies – most significantly wine from Carthage (modern Tunisia) – and port cities around the Mediterranean Sea.

Through their trade and contacts they spread their knowledge of wine making, viticulture and several ancestral varieties of the Vitis vinifera species of wine grapes.

They contributed to the dissemination of wine knowledge to several regions that today have significant wine making industries, like Lebanon. Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain, France and Portugal.

The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had a direct influence on the wine-growing making nations, as did the ancient Greeks and Romans who later spread viticulture across Europe.

One of the most important ancient texts on the history of wine, wine making and viticulture is attributed to Mago the Carthaginian writer.

The Phoenicians could plan vineyards according to favourable climate and topography and produce different wine styles, and they encouraged the use of amphorae for transporting and storing wine.

Ancient Greece:

Pottery Wine Jug, Greek 4th century BC

In Ancient Greece domestic cultivation had begun by the early Bonze Age (around 3,000 BC), but viticulture had existed even earlier, in the late Neolithic period.

Ancient Greece had a significant influence on the ancient European wine making cultures of the Celts, Etruscans, Scythians and Romans.

Ancient Greeks developed new methods of viticulture and wine production that they shared through trade and colonisation with early wine making cultures – these have since become big wine producing nations such as France and Italy.

The Greek city-states founded colonies throughout the Mediterranean and brought the grapevine with them. The earliest colonies were formed in the southern parts of the Italian peninsula and in Sicily, which was already rich with grapevines. Those colonies were followed by Massalia in southern France and the coast of the Black Sea where wine making developed significantly, promoting the Greeks’ wine trade in the process.

Some wine historians believe that the Greeks introduced viticulture to Spain and Portugal, but other theories suggest that the Phoenicians reached those parts earlier.

In Greece, wine had a huge importance from a trade point of view and for religious, social and medical purposes.

The cult of Dionysos was very active, and many festivals were held through the year in honour of the god of wine.

The medical use of wine was well developed in Ancient Greece. Hippocrates himself conducted research on the topic, and he used wine for treating various symptoms and conditions. Wine was prescribed by Greek doctors, and Greeks were also aware of its negative health effects, especially from over consumption.

Greeks were pioneers in wine production in many ways. They introduced larger wine production sites where they were able to produce more styles of wine at a time. Greeks used large clay jars to grow and produce wine, which made it less space consuming.

The wine was transported in amphorae stamped with the name of the producer, year and wine style. Greeks innovation also consisted of the usage of cork from the 5th century BC.

Wine trading developed significantly thanks to Greek traders.

Roman Empire:

Wine Amphorae Herculaneum

The Roman Empire had a huge impact on viticulture and oenology, and it had a fundamental influence on the European wine making.

Since prehistoric times, wild grapevines have grown on the Italian peninsula. Ancient Greeks had influence through their settlements in southern Italy, but the earliest recorded evidence of the Greek influence is from 800 BC. The Etruscans also had a big impact on the peninsula’s wine making. Incidentally Etruria was situated around one of the most famous and most wonderful modern wine making regions, Tuscany.

Rome expanded from a settlement into a kingdom and subsequently into a republic and absorbed the knowledge, culture and techniques of wine making from the regions that it conquered and integrated into the Roman Empire. The Greek settlement of southern Italy was under Roman control by 270 BC, and Etruria was conquered by the 1st century BC; also the Punic Wars and the culture of Carthage had also a huge affect on Roman viticulture.

The rise of the Roman Empire promoted technological progress and developed the awareness of wine making, which spread throughout the empire. For this reason, the Roman Empire had a unique impact on the history of wine making, and on the major present-day wine making regions of France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany.

Wine was part of the Roman culture in every sense. We have many records, such as frescos about wine making, wine consumption or worshipping Bacchus. Many Roman writers, such as Cato, Columella, Horace, Martial, Varro and Virgil gave us the first real studies about wine culture and wine making.

Wine had social, religious and medical use in Roman times.

In the golden age of Rome, wine was more a part of everyday life than a luxury enjoyed only by the elite, as in Greek culture.

‘Industrial’ wine production began with the Romans, as they developed huge vineyards in the south part of the peninsula and in North Africa, Spain and France. This facilitated expansive wine production and sales to supply a large population, both rich or poor.

Romans used wine widely for medical purposes, but they believed that wine also had the power to heal and harm. Cato wrote profoundly about the medical use of wine, so we can have a greater picture about the contemporary thinking and practice.

The usage of wine for religious purposes had an extreme significance in Roman times. The cult of Bacchus was present in central and southern Italy, as was the cult of Dionysos in Greece. In 186 BC, however, it was banned by the Roman Senate.

From the 1st century AD, a Christian sect emerged, where wine had a special role as ritual wine consumption due to its role in the Eucharist, which commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper. The Christian Church emerged and had a bigger, dominant and importance influence in Rome, and also on the word of wine.

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, the old world fell into crisis, as did wine production and consumption, and this will be the topic of our next post…





Maria Eugenia Aubet, The Phoenicians and the West

Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of wine

Rod Phillips, A short history of wine



Black Glazed Pottery Wine Jug, Greek, 4th Century BC, Flickr

Ancient Roman Amphorea, Herculaneum, Flickr, Photo: Jerzy Kociatkievicz