The history of the vine is a story of a migration from the Middle East, the cradle of wine, through three main paths: the first, via the Central-Western Europe; the second through our Alps; the third and probably the most important through the water, to our Peninsula from the thousand islands in the Mediterranean sea.
The first example of vines date probably back to 50 million years ago. The kind of vine that we have today, called scientifically vitis vinifera to 5000-6000 B.C.
The root of the Italian word vino, wine, comes from voin – from the old Indo-European language – mother of almost all the languages currently spoken in our continent, showing once again that this great plant has its origin in Mesopotamia, the land between rivers, whose borders correspond in part to Iraq nowadays.
Some millennia (!) later, thanks to the Greeks, the Romans and here in Umbria the Etruscans, the wine spreads in the Mediterranean, winning the challenge for the most popular alcoholic drink, with other beverages derived from the fermentation of sugars, such as beer. Beer, infact, was loved by the Egyptians and it is considered by the archaeologist the national drink of this ancient civilization since 3000 B.C.
Between the 4th and 2th century B.C. the wines from Greece were widely imported in Italy and considered very hi-end products in that period, the very best available on the market. For this reason the adjective “Greek” for a wine became later an equivalent of excellence, even if not produced on the Hellenic soil, as for example the name of our Umbrian white “Grechetto“.
During the Roman times and the conquest of Gallia, vine was widely cultivated in this province of Rome. Here in ancient France terracotta amphorae were gradually replaced by wooden barrels, easier to carry.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, England – where the Romans implanted the vine (probably the weather was milder in that area) – abandoned this cultivation and began importing from the neighbouring France.
In the Middle Ages the political relationships between the two countries deteriorated and the British started the import from Portugal (Port), Spain (Jerez) and Italy again, with Marsala in Sicily. In these areas they helped the developing of the so-called fortified wines, obtained adding alcohol or concentrate must to the wine to stop the fermentation process and to keep it more stable for the long journey through the seas.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, France became the main centre for wine production. Despite Italy lost the political leadership in Europe, wine making and vine growing never stopped in our Peninsula.
In that period in Umbria vineyards were protected by local town (Comune) laws, as for instance in Orvieto where in A.D. 1295 the Consuls named vineyards guardian whose task was to protect and control this important cultivation.
In Montefalco, in the monasteries, the friars started producing Sagrantino, the sacred wine for the holy celebrations, in its traditional sweet version, the passito, with the very same technique of drying the grapes used today by our winemakers.
In Europe viticulture was in danger in several times during its long history: in 1709 because if the extreme cold or between 1800 and 1900 when the invasion of phylloxera, insect that attacks the root of the European vine, destroyed a huge number of vineyards all over the continent.
The last century, until very recent times, is unquestionably dominated by France, whose long experience in producing high quality wines for its kings made its products the most well-known in terms of top quality all over the word for many decades.
Despite the huge fame of our neighbours and their main position on the global market, Italy in few years, starting from the 60’s and then the 80’s, was able to make incredible progresses in modern wine making and to became the most important competitor of France…or maybe is it the opposite, now?
Would you like to know more on wine and its amazing history?
Follow our blog or…
book a wine tour with us in Umbria conducted by local certified Sommeliers