Study sheds light on origins of French winemaking

  • Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:01 a.m.
A worker collects grapes in vineyards of the Chateau Haut Brion during harvest near Bordeaux, southwestern France.

Scrapings from the bottoms of 2,500-year-old pottery containers have shed new light on the origins of French winemaking.

A team of archaeologists led by the University of Pennsyl-vania’s Patrick McGovern used biomolecular analysis to confirm that fifth-century B.C. Etruscan amphorae found near Montpellier in southern France once contained a wine flavored with thyme, rosemary and basil.

Archaeological evidence and ancient texts have long provided reasonable certainty that seafaring Etruscans from central Italy introduced imported wine to their trading outpost of Lattara, now the French city of Lattes. The new evidence backs this up.

The study, published in the May 1 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also demonstrates that local Celts had begun making wine at Lattara by the end of the fifth century B.C.

Tracing winemaking’s ancient roots is important because of wine’s “crucial role in the transfer of culture from one people to another around the world,” the study says.

Some evidence exists that Greeks living in what is now Marseille began making a local wine around the same time, or even earlier. But McGovern’s research is the first to prove using chemical ana- lysis that the Celts in Lattara had learned how to make wine from Etruscans and had begun producing it themselves by at least the fifth century B.C., McGovern said.

Besides the amphorae, the researchers also analyzed a limestone press found at Lattara and showed that it was used to press grapes, not olives, as had been thought.

“First, the Etruscans built up an interest in wine, then the native Gauls saw that this was something that they wanted to do themselves,” said McGovern, author of “Ancient Wine: the Search for the Origins of Viniculture.” The Gauls would have learned grape growing and winemaking techniques from Etruscans.

Hundreds of years later, the Roman invasion helped spread winemaking across what is now France.

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