October 26, 2009

Ancient Greeks introduced wine to France

Related: Wikipedia article on the Vix Grave. Covered elsewhere: Greeks uncorked French passion for wine.

Ancient Greeks introduced wine to France, Cambridge study reveals
The original makers of Côtes-du-Rhône are said to have descended from Greek explorers who settled in southern France about 2500 years ago, it claimed.

The study, by Prof Paul Cartledge, suggested the world's biggest wine industry might never have developed had it not been for a “band of pioneering Greek explorers” who settled in southern France around 600 BC.

His study appears to dispel the theory that it was the Romans who were responsible for bringing viticulture to France.

The study found that the Greeks founded Massalia, now known as Marseilles, which they then turned into a bustling trading site, where local tribes of Ligurian Celts undertook friendly bartering.

Prof Cartledge said within a matter of generations the nearby Rhône became a major thoroughfare for vessels carrying terracotta amphorae that contained what was seen as a new, exotic Greek drink made from fermented grape juice.

He argued the new drink rapidly became a hit among the tribes of Western Europe, which then contributed to the French’s modern love of wine.

"I hope this will lay to rest an enduring debate about the historic origins of supermarket plonk,” he said.

"Although some academics agree the Greeks were central to founding Europe's wine trade, others argue the Etruscans or even the later Romans were the ones responsible for bringing viticulture to France.”

Archaeologists have discovered a five-foot high, 31.5 stone bronze vessel, the Vix Krater, which was found in the grave of a Celtic princess in northern Burgundy, France.

Prof Cartledge said there were two main points that proved it was the Greeks who introduced wine to the region.

"First, the Greeks had to marry and mix with the local Ligurians to ensure that Massalia survived, suggesting that they also swapped goods and ideas.

"Second, they left behind copious amounts of archaeological evidence of their wine trade (unlike the Etruscans and long before the Romans), much of which has been found on Celtic sites."

The research forms part of Professor Cartledge's study into where the boundaries of Ancient Greece began and ended.

Rather than covering the geographical area occupied by the modern Greek state, he argued Ancient Greece stretched from Georgia in the east to Spain in the west.

14 comments:

  1. Interesting, of course Georgia is credited with being possibly the first to cultivate grapes for wine:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_wine

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  2. Interesting. I own a winery in Western New York and make a wine we call the Black Russian which includes a grape called Saperavi from Georgia. What is interesting to me is to listen to the French describe "Terroir". Especially the region of Burgundy. The fact is, as this article points out, it was the fact that the river basins permitted transportation of wine due to remote areas that the vineyards of Burgundy were originally founded where they are.

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  3. Where is the new? in every book of history is written that the Greeks have brought the grapevine in France or what today is France.
    I doubt that a strong local production is developed in that time, because for a lot of time Gallia has imported wine from other countries, especially from Italy since the time of the etruscans.

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  4. I don't see the evidence as conclusive. Ok, the Greeks traded in wine A LOT, specially with the Celts and, ok too, the Romans were not the ones introducing the vine. But where is the evidence that wine production did not exist in France or elsewhere in SW Europe before the Greeks arrived?

    I can only imagine that at least the Phoenicians also knew of wine and traded with it. And it is very likely in my humble opinion that former trading contacts between the Hesperides and the East could have also brought wine and the cultivation of vineyards to SW Europe in earlier times (Bronze or even Chalcolithic maybe).

    But of course Massilian Greeks made the highest profit of it. That's quite clear.

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  5. I know that Massalia and its small hinterland (basically the Huveaune valley) produced wine (and little else). Much of the wine was probably traded up the rivers and along the coasts in exchange for necessities (e.g. grain, timber), as well as raw materials and slaves in demand throughout the Mediterranean.
    The trade for tin (a rare metal with no significant sources in the Mediterranean basin) seems to have been conducted via the Aude-Garonne route which reaches the Atlantic at the Gironde: another major wine region.

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  6. Maju: The wine grape of Europe is vitis vinifera. The belief is that it spread from the near east, near Ararat possibly (noah,bible?). The spread from there was north, east, west. It would have migrated with the farmers, not the hunter/gatherers in my opinion. The grape has many interesting properties - no bees required for pollination! It hybridizes in the vineyard and is adaptable to a range of climates. Naming is questionable, to this day France uses regional labels and appellation control to restrict introducing new varieties in delimited regions. Clones are everywhere and have distinguishing characteristics such as soil preference. Wild grapes are found all over north america, e.g. vitis muscadine, vitis riparia etc.

    But the quality wine grapes of the world are vitis vinifera and their cultivation and spread are somewhat understood. Historically, I have understood there were no grapes in France until the Greeks brought them to the Massalia area. The history of there spread from there is pretty well understood.

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  7. It would have migrated with the farmers, not the hunter/gatherers in my opinion.

    Absolutely!

    My question is whether pre-Phocaean waves of trade or farmers could have brought it to the SW before. I don't think it happened with Cardial (olive maybe but no data on grapes) but there are other contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean since at least the early Bronze Age, probably earlier. The taste for wine and the cultivation could well have arrived to Iberia (maybe not yet to France) with any of these.

    Of course this study provides at least with a latest possible date.

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  8. The fact is, as this article points out, it was the fact that the river basins permitted transportation of wine due to remote areas that the vineyards of Burgundy were originally founded where they are.

    The improved micro-climate of river valleys (in particular, their west and south banks in colder climates) still plays a big role away from the original growing zones of wine. Historically, for example in Germany only the upper Rhine reliably produced good wines, with the middle Rhine wines only improving in quite recent times.

    There are many genetic studies on wine species - unfortunately, most of the focus has been on relatively recent (a few hundred years old) and commercially important varieties. Much of the wine grown in Germany is from hybrids generated and/ or introduced during the past 500 years or so (mainly from Hungary, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland), and as such does not shed light on the origin of the earliest grown varieties. I would assume the same situation holds in France. Thus, genetic studies of ancient, recovered wine parts are necessary.

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  9. correction:

    their west and south banks

    --> their west and south facing banks

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  10. edit: vitis rotundifolia not muscadine. I think the Germans would take exception to the comment about hybrids. Riesling was brought in some form by the Romans and is still the grape of quality. Scheurebe, Muller-Thurgau are some of the later hybrids and there has been some replanting of these varieties back to Riesling lately. The Neckar valley north of Austria grows Lemberger and Pinot Noir in addition to white grapes.

    I don't really know the real history of "grape migration" it can only be inferred somewhat. But if the Romans brought the Riesling to Germany (and possibly later Alsace) why was this grape never popular in France? In my opinion one other point can be made. Grape culture is a high tech form of agriculture, especially as you move into more humid/rainy climates. They are long-lived perennials which require intensive care throughout the year. Its probably one of the last forms of agriculture to migrate? Here in the finger lakes in the 40's when only native varieties existed the grapes were sprayed with sulfur every 7-10 days and the tying up in the Spring was done with fresh cut Willow slips. These are the same techniques the Romans developed 2K years ago!! Finally, for the last laugh, most of the northern european grapes are grafted on american rootstock to prevent root louse damage. That is a whole story in itself.

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  11. I think the Germans would take exception to the comment about hybrids. Riesling was brought in some form by the Romans and is still the grape of quality. Scheurebe, Muller-Thurgau are some of the later hybrids and there has been some replanting of these varieties back to Riesling lately. The Neckar valley north of Austria grows Lemberger and Pinot Noir in addition to white grapes.

    Don't think so. Riesling makes up only about 20% of current German wine production, and its relation to Roman wines is nothing more than speculation, at this point --- and three generations removed, at best.

    Yes, many German wines were originally (and again, much later) selected for cold temperatures and rainy summers - likely 2000 or more years ago - but between 700 and 1000 years ago, the climate allowed for an unprecedented expansion of milder-region varieties in almost all of Germany (much wider than the current Rhine valley).

    At any rate, until we determine exact genealogical relations, you are not getting my vote either way.

    As the climate has again become warmer more recently, Spätburgunder, Dornfelder, Blauer Portugieser etc. are being grown successfully at increasingly higher latitudes.

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  12. Here is the data from the German's themselves: Many of the grapes have german names but are vinifera not hybrids. The major areas (especially export) are Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau. As I said these are predominantly Riesling wine growing regions. From what I know, Wurttemburg hardly exports at all - and they grow the most Reds.

    Data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Statistics shows that there are nearly 100 grape varieties grown in normal and/or experimental vineyards. Of these, about two dozen are of commercial importance, above all, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, which account for some 43% of Germany's 105,000 hectares of vineyards. Nearly 7,5% of the vineyard area is planted with Spätburgunder, or Pinot Noir, making it the most important red wine grape in Germany.

    Because climatic factors vary from region to region, so does each region's varietal profile. In the more northerly areas, Riesling predominates, while further south, the Burgunder, or Pinot, varieties and red wine grapes play a more important role. More than 80% of the Rheingau's vineyards are planted with Riesling, which is also the premier grape in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, Mittelrhein and Hessische Bergstrasse (more than 50%). Riesling is also important (more than 20%) in Württemberg, the Pfalz and the Nahe. In terms of area, Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner) is the most important grape variety in Baden, Franken and Rheinhessen, as well as in Saale Unstrut and Sachsen. Silvaner is a traditional variety in Rheinhessen and Franken, while the Burgunder (Pinot) family is widely planted in Baden, particularly the red wine grape Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). Red grape varieties are also important in Württemberg, where Trollinger, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) and Lemberger are cultivated, and in the Pfalz, with the Portugieser grape.





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  13. The German wikipedia site states that today's Riesling is about 600 years old, and is likely a cross between an indigenous variety used in pre-Roman times by the local population (which originated from a wild, local, cold-resistant variety of Vitis vinifera silvestris) with Roman Traminer (Savagnin blanc), and then crossed with Heunisch (Gouais Blanc) at the end of the middle ages.

    So, from that, wine was used and grown before the Romans in the Rhine valley and its tributaries - but I'd like to see more and more direct evidence.

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