Greek Wine History
Greek wine history follows the course of Greek history itself since very few nations of the world have the vineyard and wine ‘in their blood’ as the Greeks do, from prehistoric times until today (based on documents, findings, records etc). Therefore the recording of Greek wine and viticulture history, is probably the longest history in the world, and would require whole books to be narrated.
So Greek wine history is inevitably associated with the culture, the economy, the religion, the social and everyday life, but also the places where viticulture, wine production and wine consumption developed, from prehistoric times until today that we are talking about Greece’s modern wines and their “regeneration”- “revolution”.
Greek wine history begins in prehistoric times, with wild grape residues having been found in many parts of Greece and domesticated vines being cultivated since the second half of the fifth millennium BC.
In the Neolithic period, viticulture is introduced to Greece from other countries as well. In the Bronze Age, in the Minoan as well as the Mycenaean civilization, the vineyard and wine already played an important role in everyday life, but also in trade, something that, despite stopping at some points in time, continued later, in the early historic years.
During the Archaic period (7th century BC) viticulture had spread throughout Greece while wine-producing techniques were developing. In the Classical period (480-323 BC) the famous Greek wines of antiquity meet with wine trade at its best flourishing in those times.
It was then that wine was basically connected to civilization (eg with Greek symposiums) while many things concerning wine, even today, were established: designations of origin, placename, selected vineyards, terms concerning wine, tasting, sommelier as profession, responsible consumption etc.
The Classical period ends with the death of Great Alexander, who basically did wine colonization since his campaigns were always accompanied by vine and wine. In the Hellenistic years that followed, up to 146 BC, the islands of the Aegean became big wine production and trade centers of the Mediterranean for the whole of Alexander the Great’s empire. Since then and until 324 AD, the Romans adopted the Greek wine culture, amongst others, which had also been adopted by the colonies of Magna Grecia.
So Greek wines remained at the top and had great demand as it is recorded in many Roman manuscripts while they penetrated to the North of Europe as well.
In the Byzantine period and until the fall of Constantinople (Instanbul), wine-producing methods develop while wine retains its importance in daily life, economy and culture. Wine has played a key role in Christianity as well, with monasteries dynamically entering the wine arena. During the time the Venetians ruled in Greece (the islands of the Ionian and Aegean Sea, Crete, the Peloponnese) we see the most famous and highly demanded perhaps historically wine, the Monemvasia varietal (Malvasia wine).
During the Ottoman period (1453-1821) the Turks did not interfere with greek viticulture and wine production which they encouraged for reasons related to tax collection, offering privileges. However, vineyards were abandoned just because of tribute without however interfering with the preservation of wine wealth, mainly through monasteries.
After the Greek revolution, which did not benefit the Greek vineyard, the establishment of the Greek government coincided with efforts for reconstitution of vine growing and wine production which paid off gradually, but in a long term.
After 1850 the first large wineries began to appear (Achaia Clauss, Cambas) and the first Greek oenologists with European diplomas appear. Around the end of the same century, with the French vineyard almost destroyed from phylloxera, Greek wine is directed mainly to France and due to demand, currant wine (wine produced from currants) was largely produced.
This later lead to a currant crisis, because of the fall in demand and augmentation of vines with currants. A little later, phylloxera hit Greece as well, leading wine producing regions to migration and land abandonment.
Exports were limited to Mavrodafni and the wines of Samos, while the islands preserved many native grape varieties, away from phylloxera. An introduction of anti-phylloxera vines made its appearance, while Greece’s largest wineries (Tsantali, Boutari, Kourtaki) and cooperatives invested in equipment.
In the third quarter of the 20th century starts the modern era of greek wine. In 1971 Greek wines were categorized for the first time based on their designation of origin, a process that is still being updated. During the last decades Modern Greek Wine Renaissance took place. Small wineries, which later grew considerably, took the lead, and Greece right now has state of the art technology and many gifted, enthusiastic viticulturists, oenologists and winemakers.
The results are evident, since Greek wine is now a “trend” in important centers of the world, based on its diversity and its uniqueness, while wine tourism is increasingly growing.
Greek wine history is continuing with the best possible and most modern way, on the same lands that have hosted one of the most historic vineyards of the world for thousands of years now.