“Near the village of Areni, in the same cave where a stunningly preserved, 5,500-year-old leather moccasin was recently found, archaeologists have unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds.”

Grotta Karayr – Armenia
National Geographic (2011)



Until the 1950s, the civilization of wine followed a thousand-year-old stratification and codification. Wine was a drink with mythical and symbolic content for all social classes that, at the fall of the Roman Empire, were divided up into the Oradores (the religious class), the Belladores (the ruling political class) and the Laboradores (the common people).

As many readers will recall, there was a vineyard in every landed property, however small, as the consumption of wine was part of a culture that was deep-rooted in our society. Since the 1960s, a historic change has revolutionised society’s interpersonal relationships, the collective imagination and lifestyle, though basically maintaining the Mediterranean Graeco-Roman model of culture..

In that civilization, which would be unworkable today, the rhythm of life was marked by the passing of the seasons and families had close family and community ties that gave rise to small homelands (Heimat). The differences in behaviour and in social and economic structures developed historically from here and became the matrices of contemporary civilization.

In analysing the differences between civic traditions in the Italian regions, Putnam (1) portrays an Italy divided into two. The north is made up of municipalities and walled cities, in the south there is the dominion of the baronies, with their castles and estates. In northern Italy the Laboradores were also grape growers; in southern Italy, there was extensive viticulture belonging to the castles of the Belladores and the monasteries of the Oradores..

This agrarian society, with old-fashioned production methods and tools handed down for centuries, as highlighted in Diderot and D’Alembert’s (2) encyclopaedia, lived on a courtly economy and thanks to the passing on of know-how by word of mouth.

According to the physiocrats in the eighteenth century, productivity and employment (the basis of the economy), were mainly fruit of what we call the primary sector today, i.e. agriculture.

In the nineteenth century, this static world was shaken up by the so-called Industrial Revolution, whose masters (the middle classes) were already present in the towns of the late medieval and European Renaissance civilization. The start and the acceleration of this process was preceded by the phenomenon of naval trade that, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, abandoned short-range trade to extend commerce to the whole world thanks to cogs (3) and the spread of sails.

The revolution in the field of energy, started by Watt and applied to mechanical looms, rail transport and new shipbuilding with steel hulls (Sheffield and Krupp), speeded up history and world trade.

And how does wine fit into this revolution?
pic3The culture of oars and sails of Greek, Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman origin, and the culture of the Italian maritime republics, carried out limited trade and only by sea or river. This is why from Marcus Aurelius Probus (Roman Emperor from 276 to 282 AD) onwards, there was a need for viticulture in loco.

Colonial viticulture appeared centuries later for similar reasons: the Jesuits with their reducciones or misiones, Franciscans and Dominicans with settlements in nuce, i.e. at an early stage, that were the matrix of current American viticulture.

The increase in trade and sailing ships were the stimulus behind high-energy wine products such as Port, Sherry and Marsala.

This, together with situations with a different and non-linear historic evolution, is the matrix of current models; for example viticulture in the Veneto region is very similar to the Catalan one, heirs of the pago; Languedoc and Castille-La Mancha are comparable because they originate from the baronial-landowner model. Despite the Tree of Liberty (symbol of the French Revolution) and the destruction of Cluny and Cîteaux, also linked to the 1789-91 revolution, Burgundy and Champagne still maintain elite winegrowing models today.

Aquitaine (Bordeaux), conquered by the Norman (Plantagenet) Drakkar (ships), privileged supplier to England, maintained an almost total world wine trade monopoly for a long time, contributing to the fame of the vitis biturica varieties (Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet franc and others).

Finally, almost as a historical nemesis, it should be pointed out that the descendants of the Vikings and Normans, who broke away from the Vatican with Henry VIII following the Reformation, were the matrices of viticulture in the southern hemisphere (Australia and South Africa).


(1) Putnam Robert D. (1993) “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy”.

(2) Diderot & D’Alembert (1751 - 1780) “Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers”

(3) A round medieval sailing ship, which followed the era of ships driven by a mix of oars and sails.






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