Wine & Viniculture in Roman and Medieval History

Viniculture, or the art of cultivating grapes specifically for wine, dates back to the Neolithic era. Wine has been a choice alcoholic beverage since before recorded history, and has remained a popular beverage. Humans have enjoyed a long lasting relationship with wine, and this resulted in many winemaking advances and techniques. People have learned how factors such as climate, temperature, soil quality, slope, grape variety, hazards and methods contribute to the finished product. As knowledge increases, wine growers utilize new practices and techniques.

Viniculture Origins

By the fifth century B.C., ancient Rome flourished in wine production. The techniques used throughout Rome had developed from earlier methods promulgated by the Greeks. Many grape varieties first planted by the Greeks were introduced to various regions throughout Rome. Viniculture focuses on several aspects of grape cultivation. While archaeologists continue to research the exact origins of viniculture, evidence shows that humans have cultivated, harvested and blended grapes for the production of wine for thousands of years. Records show that the Phoenicians used specific processes for wine making between 1200 and 900 B.C. By medieval times, Catholic monks performed many winemaking tasks.

How Climate Shaped Viniculture

Northern European regions found that harsh climate conditions would prove devastating to many grape varieties. White grapes became a popular choice, as they were hardy and could adjust easily to climate changes. Over time, winegrowers learned that climates must be temperate for best growth. Additionally, vineyards planted near mountains or water often thrive. The importance of climate for successful grape production must not be overlooked. Choosing grape varieties suited for the region’s climate is the best way to ensure a healthy, vital crop.

In addition to climate, slope and type of soil are invaluable for winemaking. Vineyards perform best when planted on sloped, rather than flat, land. As growing grapes require plenty of direct sunlight, sloped land ensures grapes receive the sun exposure needed. High quality soil is required for optimum growth, and some grape varieties are better suited to one type of soil over another. Soil should have good drainage to allow the vines to thrive.

Wine Growing Hazards

Grapes are not without their dangers, and winemakers are continually aware of potential hazards. Sharp climate changes, plant disease such as mildew, frost, flooding and the pest Phylloxera. Grape mildew is a serious threat that can wreak havoc on vineyards. Viniculturists must stay current with the latest techniques and treatments to protect vineyards from threats.

Harvesting Techniques

Archaeologists, scientists and researchers continue to discover viniculture practices from ancient times. Many of today’s modern wine growing methods were used in ancient and medieval times. However, these techniques have been expanded upon and developed. For example, the green harvesting technique was employed in ancient vineyards. The technique involves pruning grapes that are still green on the vine. This forces the vine to focus its energy on the grapes that are closer to maturity. The technique also helps improve the quality of the grapes left on the vine.

Another practice that is popular involves blending. Viniculturists may plant several grape varieties in one vineyard. This is called field blending and offers many advantages, including maximizing vineyard space, capacity and output. As researchers continue to unfold the various techniques and practices used in viniculture, many wine makers are finding innovative ways to increase productivity without sacrificing wine quality.