Parladivino / Wine history
A Brief History
When the first Greek ships set sail for remote lands in the 8th century BC, a new enological era was born across Europe. From their ships, the colonizers looked out at the Italian coasts, here sandy, there rocky, and then at the French and Spanish shores, to the Pillars of Hercules, beyond which lay the unknown. With their sense of refinement, the Greeks took little time to improve rundown vineyards, plant vine shoots they had brought with them, and import a new foodstuffwine, the nectar of the gods. Occasional vinification had indeed been performed in Italy, but the wine produced was tart and tannic, a drink that gave no pleasure besides drunkenness.
On the other hand, Greek wine was derived out a sense of culture, and “oinos” became “vinum,” then “vino,” “vin,” “wine,” and “Wein.” Indeed, like all imported products (and unlike pre-existing ones) wine took on a similar name in every language. In Italy, wine began to be produced in great amounts. At Sibari, a Calabrian port on the Ionian Sea, a clay wine conduit loaded ships. And what wine it was! Full-bodied, warm, often sweet. It came from low-growing, constantly pruned vines, fed by the heat of the sun and the heat absorbed by the earth. Sugary grapes grew on those shrub-like vines, giving body and soul to a wine that was never rough.
The Etruscans, on the other hand, did practically no pruning. They let vines climb the trunks of trees and tall shrubs. Because their vines generated fruit that ripened in the shade of the trees and foliage, they didn’t benefit from sunlight or heat from the earth. What kind of wine could be obtained from such tart, wild grapes? The vineyards of Magna Graecia spread to Campania Felix, giving life to the wines that the Romans, centuries later, learned to love. But it was hard to transport the wine in amphorae, or the bigger dolium, both made of clay and therefore fragile; the slightest blow and litres and litres of wine would go to waste, together with all the hard work involved. On top of that, the amphorae and dolium were coated internally with pitch and resin, which did little to improve the characteristics of the wines. Not until they crossed the Dolomites did the Romans discover a container that would mark a new era in enology. They saw that the natives kept their wine in solid containers of wood, or Gallic barrels. They found that, rather than taint the wine, these containers actually enhanced the flavor. Amphorae were thus packed away into history's storeroom, while rudimentary barrels were perfected. Wine became easier to transport, even over land, because barrels did not suffer from the jolts and jerks along the Via Emilia, Aurelia, Appia or Flaminia.
One day, however, such prosperity seemed destined to end. Warriors from the east, speaking unknown tongues, came galloping through fields, destroying vineyards and vegetable plots along the way. Behind them came hungry hordes searching for fertile land on which to settle. Their forays became more frequent and the landscape turned ugly: fields ruined, houses looted. When it wasn't the barbarians raiding the land, it was the disbanded troops of a decaying empire.
A vineyard, once planted, takes time to bear good fruit; grapes need years to become rich in sugar. "How many raids, how much looting and devastation will there be in the meantime?" thought the farmers. Even after moving to safer places, the farmers preferred to concentrate on quicker-yielding crops, like vegetables, or cereals, which need less than a year from sowing to harvesting.
Only the abbeys, generally far off the beaten path, kept growing grape to make wine for masses. For centuries the vine barely survived. Not until the heart of the Middle Ages did the vine regain a place of importance and become, at least in Italy, an important source of revenue. In skirmishes between local lords, in fact, destroying the vineyards of the enemy city was a common means of wounding, sometimes mortally, its economy and pride.
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