The history of wine in Greece

The history of the vine begins 70 million years ago; it goes well beyond the first presence of man, only one million years ago.

No one can claim with certainty where the vine emerged first, although after the glaciers and as historically estimated, it developed in areas with a favourable climate, such as the ones of Caucasus and of Mesopotamia. So, its cultivation seems to start around 5000 BC, while in Greece it appears around 4000 BC. From archaeological finds, vases and frescoes we learn that the Egyptians knew how to make wine. Generally, it is evident that in Egypt they were familiar with several varieties of vines, such as those found in frescoes of Egyptian tombs of the Pharaoh dynasty.

Wine was an integral part of the ancient Greeks’ life. According to mythology, the children of Dionysus and Ariadne, Staphylos and Oenopion, were the creators of wine. According to another version, Staphylos, a shepherd in profession, serving King Oineas, noticed that a goat, when eating the fruits of a certain plant, became more cheerful and livelier. Oineas, tasting the juice, gave the fruit the name of the shepherd (Staphylos) –“staphyli” in Greek, and named the juice (wine) after himself (Oineas) – “oinos” in Greek. It is also said that Dionysus had a very good friend, Ambelos, who helped him when he was drunk. But he died young and Zeus transformed him into a plant with the encouragement of Dionysus.

The most famous social events in the classical times were the symposia. At the symposium there was the master of the feast, responsible for the dilution of the wine with water, due to high grades of alcohol, and the sommelier, who made sure there was wine in the glasses of the guests.

The wine was also used in pharmacology, in diets, for washing wounds, in libations. Wine was offered to the warrior when he left for war. Its great importance has resulted in its legislative protection in both harvesting and commerce. In the 5th century Athenian democracy, wine trade is booming with exports showing an increase, as evidenced by shipwrecks and their findings across the Mediterranean basin. Wine and trade were very closely related.

Later, in 146 BC, the Romans became fascinated by the technique and knowledge of the Greeks and evolved into lovers of Greek wine. It is said that Caesar, in order to please his generals, offered them fine Greek wines. After the fall of the Roman Empire, wine-growing withered, but the first Christian priests began cultivating vines for the needs of religious ceremonies.

In Byzantine times the cultivation was done by the monks. The famous Byzantium wines become sought after throughout the world, with the well-known Malvasia (Monemvasia) wine being the most famous wine, produced in Thassos and Crete. It was exported to the big cities of France, Germany, England and Italy.

In Ottoman domination times, the cultivation of the vine continued unabated, as Turkish Pashas sent wine from their region to their superiors in order to impress them. Later, towards the end of the Ottoman conquest, the Turks destroyed a great deal of arable land, with Ibrahim in the Peloponnese being a classic example of that.

The history of wine in modern and contemporary Greece

 The period between 1821-1860 is characterized as a period of the cultivation of the raisin . Greece is the world leader in its cultivation (Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Ithaca) and is the main exportable product.

From 1861 to 1911 the vineyard cultivation doubled, but the raisin still holds first place. In 1878 the plant louse phylloxera destroys the vineyards in France and the French import huge quantities of dried grapes for dry-cured wine from Greece. When the French vineyards recovered, importing raisins was prohibited, in order to strengthen French wine-growing. This led to the raisins’ crisis in 1893, the huge fall in prices, the indisposed quantities in the warehouses and the beginning of mass immigration into America.

From 1912 to 1922, for a decade, Greece is at war, and the existence of phylloxera at that time greatly reduces production. During the interwar years 1928-1938 the cultivation of the vine has constantly increased. The areas that have developed were Sterea Hellas, more specifically the Mesogeion area of Attica, with Andreas Kampas’ winery, and the Peloponnese and especially Achaia with the Achaia Claus winery.

The increase in the population of Athens has made people look for cheap bulk wine. The Attica vineyard tripled and from then on began the defamation of Attica wine from vinification that was not made at the wineries but in the taverns of Athens and no one could certify if the must was of the Attic vineyard or came from another region. In fact, the situation and the habits change in 1969, when wine with designation of origin is institutionalized, a truly titanic work by the Director of the Wine Institute Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, aiming at creating a national framework for the approval of the proper wines, which therefore would have the right to be characterized by the geographical name of their production site either as an OPE or as OPAP, and when tourism from European countries systematically  increases, creating conditions of consciousness of bottled wine.

Particularly after 1980 and thanks to the continuous efforts of Greek wine producers, Greek wines are presented at international fairs, win international distinctions, make their timid appearance in foreign markets.

After 1995 the wineries grow and the base for the creation of a strong brand name for Greek wine is established.

Since 2004, Greek winemakers and oenologists, in the state-of-the-art wineries, having the native and international varieties of Greek vineyards, produce wines that earn the place they deserve in the world wine map. Thus, the wine-lovers from Greece and from the rest of the world discover, taste and enjoy the excellent Greek wines. Through joint actions such as “Wine Roads”, by region, “The International Thessaloniki Wine Contest”, wine festivals such as “Dionysia”, “Oenorama”, “Detrop-Oenos” and “Oinotelia”, where professionals and consumers, Greeks and foreigners, come in direct contact with winemakers.

An important role in the upgrading of Greek wine and in the education of consumers has been played by “Wine, the Beloved” by oenologist Dimitris Hatzinikolaou, WSPC,” Wine and Spirit Professional Consultants” by Konstantinos Lazarakis, Master of Wine, Genius in Gastronomy of Sommelier Georgios Loukas and, of course, the Department of “Oenology and Technology of Beverages” of the TEI (Technological Educational Institute) of Athens.

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