Roman Winemaking

Wine is an alcoholic drink of low and mid-strength made from fermented grape juice or pulp. Winemaking and viticulture originated in ancient times. In Malaya, the Near East and Central Asia, Syria, the Caucasus, Egypt and Mesopotamia people began to cultivate grapes 5-7 thousand years ago. Each civilization made its own contribution to winemaking. Therefore, the investigation of Roman winemaking and culture in general is considered an important issue, as it reveals the core principles of wine making and consumption that have remained valuable until today.

The culture of wine drinking and making in Roman Empire is closely connected with such ancient character as Bacchus. He is believed to be not only the god of wine, winemaking and viticulture, but also the patron saint of fruit trees and bushes, who has filled them with juice; in fact, he is considered the god of fruit-bearing land forces. As viticulture and horticulture required diligence, thoroughness and patience, Bacchus was worshiped as the giver of these precious qualities and wealth that comes to the hardworking and skillful workers. As the god of wine, he was honored mainly for the fact that he had separated the people from the problems and troubles (“liberator”) and gave them the joy of life. Bacchus was believed to clear mind and body, promote sociability and fun, inflame love and stimulate the creative powers of artists. In fact, all these powers were incorporated in winemaking as well. The poet Horace praised the strength of wine that helped him get away from the sadness and grief, inspired courage, allowed him enjoy the pleasures of friendship and celebrate Roman triumphs and their own deliverance from danger. He said: “It is said even the virtue of old Cato warmed up with merum” . Therefore, in Roman culture, wine associated with something positive, light and liberating.

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In Roman culture, the everyday consumption of wine was widely accepted. It was an essential part of their society. For the most part, it was a common practice to mix wine with water. In fact, such way of drinking was determined by the water aqueducts in Rome, since they produced unsafe drinking water. Therefore, Romans tended to mix wine with water in 4:1 ratio in order to kill harmful bacteria present in the water and make it drinkable. However, such method was also used to lower the strength of the alcohol without changing its calorie count. 

In general, wine was present in the meals of Romans in different forms. The Romans used wine at the beginning of the day, since breakfast consisted of bread, which was moistened in wine, called jentaculum. In fact, different pastries could be used to replace bread. In imperial Rome, wine was an everyday drink, which was also used during the holidays and celebrations. Before banquets Romans drank, so-called, mulsum, which was wine mixed with a few spoons of honey (vino mielato). In addition, some spices were added to the mixture, including pepper, saffron, etc. The resulting beverage was served with the first course during the Roman dinner or banquet. To make the best mulsum, according to Columella, about ten pounds of honey with three gallons of grape have to be mixed, than the grape berries are crushed underfoot to get wine; but it has to be taken before it gets squeezed out entirely. It was believed that it determines longevity, whets the appetite, and aids digestion. Such various wine consumption ways determined its wide popularity among Roman people.

Romans also were famous for widely using wine in cooking, medicine and religion. In cooking, it was used for several purposes, such as sanitation and flavor enhancement. Information taken from Horace’s Satires III.8.47 showed that three types of wine were used to cook one course. Wine Moray was used to reveal the best qualities of the meat, or during boiling. In these words, the author explained that wine was the only cure against the plants consumed by the troops during the Anthony’s campaign. In religion, wine was used to worship Bacchus, put funeral fire out, and as the representation of Christ’s blood. Therefore, wine was an essential part of Roman everyday life.

Romans used wine for many reasons to serve their social purposes. It helps express respect to the partner by allowing him to make a first sip from the cup. It was also used in many games, including the number of sips during drinking depended on the number of letters in the name of a person who was toasted. In general, at the beginning, Roman culture was signified by its attempts to control alcohol consumption. Women were prohibited to drink wine, similarly to slaves. In fact, even men were allowed to drink only after the age of 35. Despite Ancient Rome drinking habits initially were restrained by many prohibitions and restrictions, drunkenness swept the Roman Empire. 

Roman winemaking had its own peculiarities. The Romans borrowed the technology of viticulture and winemaking from the Greeks. In Roman times, wine production had increased even more, while in the imperial era, winemaking spread throughout all the provinces of the empire. Roman master greatly improved winemaking technology, having developed the technique of fermentation and aging of wine under the sun, learning to keep it in amphoras.Wine fermentation takes place in an open area on a sunny day or in cellars in huge vessels of clay, called pithoi. Before pouring wine of the new harvest, pithoi were carefully washed, dried, and then fumigated with sulfur. Barrels at the time had not yet been invented, and the wine was aging between five and ten years in the amphorae, which indicated the year and the place of its production, as well as offered a list of all ingredients that were added to the drink. In general, the process of winemaking was very difficult. Cato made many efforts to describe the process of winemaking. In his works he described the way pressing of the grapes had to be conducted, the recipes of different wines, even included the list of things required for grapes gathering.

Among the special contributions that were made by Romans to winemaking the following could be pointed out. Romans were the first to introduce glassblowing. Keeping wine in glass gave an opportunity to save initial wine flavor without it changing. It also made it possible to show a color of wine to consumers. However, this innovation had some disadvantages due to dishonest artisans who tended to make small glassware. Another contribution of Romans was the introduction of wooden barrels that were used to transport wine in Northern provinces. They also introduced some techniques that rationalized vineyards; in fact, they created different systems of vines training e.g. planting in rows or pergola-style arbors. Another big contribution made by Roman civilization in the winemaking process is that Roman writers were the first who began commemorating different aspects of winemaking in a written form for their further usage. In such way, the Roman writers mentioned a very important detail about the necessity of the hole on the top of amphorae to make carbon dioxide escape without changing the quality of wine. When considering all these contributions, it becomes quite clear, that Roman winemaking period can be considered as one of the most important times.

Due to the remarkable achievements of the Romans in winemaking during ancient times, it remains important nowadays to reveal some of its secrets in order to obtain a unique flavor. Therefore, nowadays some Italian historians attempt to obtain wine using some Roman tools, such as wooden cross (“the stork”), twists and strips of cane. The main idea of this activity is to avoid any mechanization in the process of winemaking in order to obtain an organic taste of wine similar to the one offered by Romans. Daniela Malfitana, the one who oversees the project, says that it is a great opportunity “to check the feasibility of the Roman techniques”. This project is the bright evidence of the originality of the Roman winemaking that cannot be substituted even with modern techniques and equipment.

In general, Roman winemaking has some similarities with winemaking process of other civilizations. In Roman society, wine was valued for its wide usage in medicine, cooking, religion. In addition, it was an essential part of social interaction. However, the most valuable aspect is Roman contributions to winemaking that resulted in high quality wine, the characteristics of which are still being examined. Therefore, Roman wine and winemaking is considered as the example of wine world culture.

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