Today, the Italian wine industry is a true monolith. In recent years especially, the industry has grown to the point where it’s now at the top of the pile. Even France, which is its nearest competitor, isn’t able to compete against the current might of the Italian wine industry. It truly is at the peak when it comes to output, popularity, and quality.
But things weren’t always this way for the industry. In fact, it’s come an awful long way since the first people decide to cultivate grapes in Italy. This article looks at the basic history and the evolution of the industry, from the earliest of days right up until today.
The Early History
Many a producer will happily tell you about the many centuries of history that backs up their products. Other producers talk about how their companies have decades of family experience behind them. But none of them can trace their roots all of the way back to the starting days of wine in Italy.
Until fairly recently, most historians agreed that wine was first made in Italy about 4,000 years ago. Back then, there wouldn’t have been an Italian wine industry. Instead, early farmers would have realised that grapes were an abundant crop that they could mass produce. After that, they’d have realised that grapes produce an interesting liquid when allowed to ferment.
However, it seems that the history of wine in Italy stretches back even further than we may have realised. A recent discovery in Sicily holds the key. What looked like simple shattered remnants of an ancient pot held an interesting secret. A chemical analysis revealed that these pots had once held an early form of wine. The kicker is that the archaeologists who made the discovery dated the pots to about 6,000 years ago.
It seems like Italian wine stretches back even further than we may have thought. Moreover, this discovery is the earliest hint of wine production in the entire world. Italy may not have just gotten their earlier than we thought. It may have been the first country to produce wine of any variety.
Of course, we’ll await further discoveries before we can really look into all of that in good detail. So, what do we know about the early Italian wine industry for certain?
Of course, we all know that Ital has the perfect climate for widespread grape growing. But it seems like the Greeks may have been the first to really push the Italian wine industry forward. Make no mistake about it. Italians were making wine before the arrival of the Ancient Greeks. However, the Greeks had such a passion for wine that they even named a God for it. It’s likely that the arrival of the Greeks into Italy led to the planting and cultivation of many more vineyards.
Those who came after the Greeks also seemed to share their same passions. The Etruscans had a great interest in winemaking too, with some of the vineyards used today being able to trace their roots back to the Etruscan era.
But it was the Romans who perhaps did the most to establish the practice of winemaking in Italy. Like the Greeks, the Romans had their own God of wine. Named Bacchus, he was celebrated on a regular basis with elaborate festivals, many of which required a lot of wine. In fact, these festivals became so wild that the Roman senate eventually banned them.
But one thing is for certain. Such occasions would have needed a lot of wine. That means that the Italian wine industry was certainly at an early peak during the Roman period.
Christianity and the Renaissance
The rise of Christianity signalled a strange time for the Italian wine industry. On one hand, wine was, and still is, an essential part of the Holy Sacrament. It’s used extensively in Catholic ritual, in particular, to this day. This meant that many monastic orders dedicated themselves to the creation of wines that were worthy of use during these rituals. It’s during this period that many of the winemaking techniques used in previous eras were refined.
However, the rise of Catholicism also had negative effects for the industry. For a period, the wine industry veered away from the commercial and became the domain of monks and their ilk. They made advancements, but wine was not sold or consumed on a large scale anymore.
That all changed as time went on, particularly with the birth of the Renaissance. Perhaps the most important period in Italian history, the Renaissance saw enormous advances in art, architecture, and science. It also saw the Italian wine industry begin to flourish once again. In fact, the Antinori family, which is now one of Italy’s top producers, can trace its roots all of the way back to this period.
The Modern Era
From the renaissance, the Italian wine industry continued to grow. More producers started to spring up and many more companies started to export their products to Europe and beyond.
The 19thcentury saw another setback though. The spread of phylloxera destroyed many vines that Italians had cultivated for centuries. The industry struggled to regain its prominence in the years that followed. But the hard work of producers, coupled with the fact that the phylloxera virus had affected producers from all across Europe, allowed the industry to rebound.
Into the 20thcentury, the Italian wine industry was established as one of the most important in the world. The major producers focused on international expansion while domestic producers perfected their local markets. This period also saw many smaller companies arise or begin to make names for themselves.
Then came the advent of the Internet. It would be hard to say that anybody saw the impact that the Internet would have on the Italian wine industry coming. Today, producers can offer their wines to anybody in the world. Consumers can buy from the comfort of their own homes. The rise of the Internet has coincided with a golden period for the Italian wine industry.
As for the future, expansions into China and India seem to be at the forefront of the industry’s mind. Italian wine still has room to grow. It will be very interesting to see if it manages to in the coming years.
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