Throughout the long history of Greek wine, the relationship vine-wine is inextricably connected with all the residents of Greece. Thus, any reference to the history of Greek wine inevitably contains information on culture, economy, religion, social life and places where viticulture developed wines and promoted wine consumption.
The history of Greek wine covers a long period of time, maybe the world’s biggest, in terms of continuous growing of vines and the historical production of wines. The beginning of viticulture in Greece exceeds historical eras and lost in the mists of time. Sometimes glorified and other times living in the shadow of the events of the strife-torn land that gave birth to wine.
The viticulture and wine production in Greece are primitive human activities and are assumed to prehistoric times (4500 - 1050 BC). Remains of wild vine (vitis vinifera ssp sylvestris) found in many parts of the country (Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, Evia & Peloponnese) possibly some dated back to the Neolithic Age
The first traces of wine are charred seeds and grapes peel, pressed grape products from wild and cultivated vine.
In later periods of the Neolithic era viticulture spreads in Greece and other countries, which had already developed winemaking in prehistoric times, such as Mesopotamia and Egypt. From there through the Phoenicians voyagers, the vine roots extents in Greece, starting from Crete. According to some, the wine activity in Greece started in Thrace, upcoming from the East.
Initially the Minoan era, spreads the vine and wine from Crete to the surrounding islands of the Aegean Sea, as one of the main produce and export merchandises. Since then, viticulture never stopped on the island of Crete, where they discovered the world's oldest wine press and wine remains in vessels. Later the Mycenaean civilization, established in Mycenae in Peloponnese, will dominate in southern Greece and the Mediterranean area.
In the Aegean and Asia Minor, were created the first Greek colonies, such as Ionia, where viticulture became the main produce for the next 3000 years and wine the main export product.
The viticulture in the Archaic period and particularly during the 7th century BC has now spread all over Greece, as the climate and the terrain is ideal for viticulture. The Dionysian cult spreads, bringing through the Dionysian festivals dramatic poetry, theater and tragedy.
In the Archaic period (700-480 BC), the need for safe transportation of wine will develop ceramic art for manufacturing amphorae, which will replace the sheepskin used for the sea trade, while vessel making will give excellent patterns of different types of wine vessels. Consumption and enjoyment of wine, becomes an art.
In this period many coins show wine symbols. Greek ships, loaded with amphorae filled with wine from the Aegean islands and the continental coast, exporting Greek wines, and spread the Greek culture, which has begun to develop between the cities, endorsing the imperative that "wine equals culture.”
The Classic period laid the foundations for modern wine culture and wine law, by designations the origin and the area, ensuring the protection of the wines identity and selected vineyards. Famous Classic period wines was the Ariousios from Ariousia Chios, Lesvios the Peparithios, Samos the Thasian, which is the first PDO wine in the world and Mendaios of Halkidiki, perhaps the first eponymous white wine in the world
Staying in the Classic period, 4th century BC and as Athens is in constant friction with Sparta and other Greek cities; the region Macedonia will take control in Greece, with King Philip and later the son of Alexander the Great.
The developed Macedonian art will create masterpieces in containers and wine vessels, while the teacher of Alexander the Great, the philosopher Aristotle, will be a valuable resource, not only with his wisdom, but also with information on the vineyards and wines.
The end of the Classic period, the most glorious era for Greece and for wine, ends with the death of Alexander the Great, who was one of the best military leaders in the history of the world.
He expanded the Greek culture to Egypt and India applying also a wine foundation. The viticulture in Greece was extended to the East, while remarkable was the thriving wine trade in the south, for the needs of the movement. The innumerable army of Alexander acquired wine not only as a tonic and refreshing, but also as "sterilization" for the difficult conditions and contaminated water that might have come across. Thus, the Macedonian ships carrying wine to ports where the army will come too, supplied from the Greek islands of the South Aegean such as Rhodes, Kos, Cyprus, and the coast of Asia Minor.
From the middle of 2nd century BC to the Roman period (146-324 AD) the entire Greek region was controlled by the Romans, who adopted many Greek elements that will shape the "Greco-Roman" culture including the roots of Roman wines, and winemaking techniques, some already known to the Romans by the Greek colonies in Sicily and southern Italy.
The Romans, following the technique of the Etruscans, to grow in vines, are now beginning to adopt the cultivation of low shapes of vines as the Greeks did, giving less but better grapes, especially in hot and dry areas.
The Greek tradition and the art of enjoying wine will be the statute of wealthy gourmet Romans and good Greek wines are very popular.
In the Roman period, Crete returns dynamically; from the 1st to the 3rd century AD, the golden age of the Cretan vineyard sends wines to the Aegean, to Egypt, Mainland Greece and throughout Europe.
Cretan amphorae have been found in Pompeii and Ostia Italy, in Lyon France, and even in Switzerland.
In the Venetian period (12th-17th c.), The Venetians dominated the Aegean and Ionian Sea, Crete and for a while the Peloponnese. Historically, Europeans appreciate Greek wines, not only for their quality, but also because they last on long sea voyages. Thus, Frankish and Venetian ships begin to load more and more wines of Crete, the Cyclades and Monemvasia who named its port, after the renowned wine, Malvasia, (today revived in Greece by introducing new Monemvassia-Malvasia wines). The trade of Malvasia wine was one of the largest in the global transportation of the wine history.
During the Turkish occupation (1453 - 1821), the Ottoman Turks, because of their religion and unlike other conquerors, they did not seize the wealth of the Greek vineyard. After the fall of Constantinople, they left the inhabitants in wine areas to produce their wine as their ancestors did for thousands years ago, providing even government privileges, trading to the islands or independence. The Muslim religion forbid the drinking of wine and the cultivation of vines for wine production by Muslims but allowed collecting taxes from the viticulture and wine production by Greek Christians.
Thus, in many regions of the Ottoman Empire, whose inhabitants continued cultivation of vines, the local rulers retained an amount of the produced wine as taxes. In many cases, residents refused this tribute. This resulted to abandon many vineyards or even destroyed in retaliation
The Greek revolution of 1821, was inevitably catastrophic for the Greek vineyard. Some rulers destroyed the enemy's wealth, while rebels gave up pruning, harvest and wine making to take up arms. In the early years of independence, with the agreement that the Greek state will be independent, starts the first attempts of vine growing and wine production, and developed the first Greek oenologists. Basically they failed because for the next century Greeks were trying to liberate their homeland. Even then, however, the wine trade and Santorini wine exports continued.
In the early years of independence and particularly after the mid-19th century, the first large wineries appeared who possessed or were involved in European partnerships (some of them Achaia Klaus and Toul in Cephalonia). The wineries had direct access to European ports. Other important wineries in Attica (Cambas) and few in Nemea, Samos, Naoussa. Santorini dominated the Greek exports with Russia as her main market. The first Greek oenologists to study in France return home, while Greece extends its borders, capturing the territory of the Ionian Islands and Thessaly, reaching about half its current size.
The end time of tribulations left a devastated Greece coming into the Modern period (1945 - 1975) leaving the country to monitor the international winemaking developments from the sidelines.
Retsina and Patras Mavrodaphne wines, Samos with geographical indication, were the main bottled wines exported. On the other hand, large quantities of high-level and mostly dark wine, sold in bulk for blending in European wines.
The good news was that most islands were untouched by the disease phylloxera, salvaging hundreds of indigenous grape varieties.
Modern Greek wine renaissance occurred in the last decades of the 20th century. In the Greek market, small and medium-sized integrated vineyards are created, which produce wines of limited production, using both Greek and international grape varieties. Enthusiastic winemakers, many of them oenologists, cultivate with passion and make excellent wines by reviving historic Greek vineyards and creating new ones. In the meantime, hundreds of Greek oenologists, studied mainly in France, European countries and beyond. The academic establishment in Wine and Beverage Technology gets introduced in Athens, and many Greek university graduates specialized in Viticulture and Oenology will strengthen scientifically the country, increasing the potential of Greece, using modern technology and winemaking methods. Result begins to appear in the Greek market; Greeks and visitors from around the world are discovering the Modern Greek wines.
The Greek culture is the oldest in Europe. Especially the Classical era decisively influenced the western thinking. Ancient Greek culture and wine spread of Greek culture to the world, and earned a place in eternity. Besides, the Greek civilization was created and inspired by the "spirit" of Dionysus and ... funded by the wine trade.