Already 6,000 if not 8,000 years ago, vines were cultivated and wine was produced for the first time. This is proven by grape seeds found in Asia Minor (Anatolia in today's Turkey), remains of wine presses as well as numerous antique wine vessels and wine motifs on artifacts from many areas.
Where the first wine was actually drunk can of course no longer be determined. Probably chance played a major role in its creation. Transcaucasia (parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), where the oldest archaeological discoveries were made, is considered the cradle of wine culture, as are the advanced civilizations in Mesopotamia (mostly present-day Iraq, as well as parts of Syria and Turkey), in the Upper Nile river basin(Egypt) and in the Jordan Valley(Israel and Jordan). According to a report in the Bible, after the end of the Flood, Noah landed with his ark on Ararat and became a wine grower. By the way, according to the latest research, the origin of the cultivated grapevine or the winegrowing culture is said to be in south-east Anatolia (arrow).
The ancient advanced civilizations of the Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians were already engaged in viticulture, some of them quite professionally. Many passages in the Bible and numerous writings and wall paintings of many ancient cultural peoples from these dominions report about it. Much of their knowledge, techniques and grape varieties may then have been taken over in the course of ancient history throughout the entire Mediterranean region, first by the Greeks and later by the Etruscans, Israelites, Celts (Gauls), Phoenicians and Romans.
This painting comes from the tomb of Chaemwese in Thebes (Upper Egypt) around 1450 BC. Among other things, the grape harvest, fermentation in containers, and the loading of a ship with amphorae are depicted.
The origins of European viticulture lie mainly in Greece. The poet Homer (8th century B.C.) reports in his Iliad about wine as the domestic drink of his epic heroes. Already in the Mycenaean culture in the 16th century B.C. (Mycenae = north-eastern Peloponnese, province of Argolis) there was targeted viticulture. This is proven by archaeological finds in the old palaces, among other things, cellars with wine remains in storage jars and grape seeds were discovered. The Greek philosopher Theophrastos (370-287 BC), who was born on the island of Lesbos, already described the necessary coordination of grape variety, soil type and climate. Common systems of vine training were the pulling of the vines on trees, the bush form or the flat soil training. It was known that appropriate pruning had a beneficial effect on yield and wine quality.
In addition to its pure pleasure, wine also had an important religious and social role in ancient Greece. At the symposia (drinking parties), the enjoyment of wine together among men attained a true cult character and was an indispensable part of the drinking culture of the time. Wine was equally important from a health point of view, and medical applications are often mentioned for the purpose of antisepsis, pain relief, digestive support or "to balance the juices of the body". Wine played an important role in many medicines of the famous doctor Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.). The best qualities came from the Aegean Islands. These were mainly Chios (Khios) - which is considered the Bordeaux of ancient Greece - as well as Rhodes, Samos and Lesbos. Furthermore, the wines from the peninsula of Chalkidike(Macedonia) were also popular. For many of the city-states of that time, viticulture was of great economic importance and wine was exported to the entire Mediterranean region, but especially to Rome and Egypt.
When the Greeks colonized the Mediterranean countries between 1,000 and 600 BC, they brought their winegrowing techniques as well as their native grape varieties. When they came to Italy via Sicily to what are now two regions, Calabria and Campania, they gave the country the name Oinotria. In the place of today's Cirò (today's DOC) in Calabria was the town of Krimisa, where, according to legend, the wine of the Olympic champions was produced. The names of today's grapes such as Aglianico, Cesanese, Falanghina, Greco Bianco, Grechetto, Limnio and Malvasia indicate a possible Greek origin. Many of the Greek wine growing methods were adopted by the Celts (Gauls) and Romans. However, there were also Roman developments, such as adding sea water or salt during fermentation to make the wine more supple, to avoid a mouldy taste or spoilage and to improve the lack of acidity in the Mediterranean climate. These techniques were adopted by the Greeks.
The addition of gypsum or marble dust mentioned by Theophrastos was done to clarify and acidify the wine. However, methods were also common which today would be called wine adulteration. For example, ash lye, salt, spruce needles and various spices were added to the wine to take away its astringency or to improve its taste. There were also techniques for making white wine from red wine, which were achieved by adding bean flour or egg white. The first must was sometimes made into special wines, but was usually mixed with the press wine. The fermentation was carried out in dolium (clay vessels with a volume of several thousand litres) which were sunk into the ground. During or shortly after fermentation, thickened must was also added for sweetening and preservation.
As a rule, the wine was left on the rack and then often only tapped in amphorae in spring. The great period of the ancient Roman wines lies between the 1st century B.C. and the end of the 2nd century A.D. The three probably most famous wines in this period were Caecubum, Falernum and Surrentinum (white wines, Falerner also red), which all - like most of the Roman top wines - came from the region of Campania. But also the Haluntium from Syracuse (Sicily), the Pucinum from Friuli(favourite wine of Augustus' wife; 63. B.C. to 14 A.D.) and the Raeticum from Veneto are also worth mentioning.
The biggest problem in the hot climate was the storage and preservation of the wine, so that it was necessary to deal with the preservation at an early stage. Homer already mentioned sulphurisation and the flavouring of wine with spices and perfuming substances in the 8th century BC. One sealed the amphorae with pitch or pine resin and applied a resin-oil layer to the surface of the wine. From this the Greek retsina developed. In ancient literature, sweet wines are also often mentioned. This was probably not so much due to the pressing of dried grapes (although already mentioned in Homer's Odyssey), but that the fermentation, which usually takes place at higher temperatures, got stuck. However, unripe grapes were also deliberately pressed in order to produce wines with strong acidity.
The largest market was Rome, where the free distribution of wine (i.e. not only bread) at the games was ploughed by the patricians. Until its destruction by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 the city of Pompeii was the main supplier. Wine was an everyday drink for all classes of the population, which is also documented by the saying "Vita vinum est" (wine is life). The famous work Satyricon of Petronius is an outstanding example of the eating and drinking culture of the Roman upper class. However, there were great differences in quality. The poor classes and slaves loved the Iora, a pomace wine made from pressing residues. A popular non-alcoholic drink of the Roman citizens and especially legionaries was the Posca (a vinegar water). The best wines were mainly white wines. Red wines rich in tannin and capable of ageing did not yet exist. They were pale red and the everyday drink in the taverns.
Among the better strata, the mead and the honey wine Mulsum was very popular. Also the storability of the wines was very important for the Romans and they seem to have put more effort into this than the Greeks. According to Roman law a distinction was made between "new" and "old" wine, the latter had to be stored for at least a year. With the white wines the taste gradually changed from thick and sweet to light and dry. A widespread and fatal custom was to thicken grape juice in lead vessels by boiling it on a small fire to form a syrup called Defrutum. Chronic lead poisoning is mentioned in some sources as one of the reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire. If this is true, then (besides water pipes and cisterns made of lead) this custom also contributed to it. The map shows the Roman Empire at the time of its greatest expansion at the end of the reign of Emperor Hadrian (53-117).
During the expansion of their empire, the Romans spread or cultivated viticulture throughout Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa, where they had a decisive influence on viticulture and wine culture by means of appropriate laws. In this respect, the two emperors Domitian (51-96) and Probus (232-282) are particularly noteworthy, whose decrees and measures had a major impact on the development of viticulture in almost all countries in Europe. Many of the names that seem German to us today originate from the Romans. The best known are wine from vinum, must from mustum (mustus = young, fresh), wine press from Calcatorium or cellar from cellarium.
In many of today's traditional wine-growing regions in Europe, there were already vineyards cultivated by the Romans at the turn of the century. Remains of winemaking artefacts have been found in many winegrowing communities. The picture shows a brick wine-pressing plant in the municipality of Piesport (Bernkastel area) in the German Moselle wine region. The documentation on wine and viticulture written by numerous Greek and Roman authors was partly valid until the late Middle Ages in the 15th century and the methods described therein were applied. The orders of the Roman Catholic Church later took over the pioneering role from the Romans, drawing on their experience and perfecting it. The Benedictines (from the 6th century onwards), as well as the Carthusians and Cistercians (from the 11th century onwards), were particularly meritorious.
There is extensive literature on viticulture and wine culture in antiquity, which also provides a colourful picture of the habits of life. In chronological order, these are the Carthaginian Mago (around 400 BC), considered the "first author of wine", the Greek historian Herodotus (482-425 BC), the Roman politician Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), the Roman writer Varro (116-27 BC), the Greek historian Strabo (63 BC-28 a.D.), the Roman author Columella (first half of the 1st century), the Roman natural scientist Pliny the Elder (23-79), the Roman historian Tacitus (55-120), the Greek physician Galen (129-216), the Greek writer Athenaeos (around 200) and the Roman writer Palladius (4th century). And the three Roman poets Horace, Ovid and Vergil wrote about wine. See also under Ancient grape varieties.