Cato, Marcus

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Cato, Marcus (234–149 bc), Roman statesman advanced as a writer on agricultural and viticulture matters, known as ‘Cato the Elder’ or ‘Cato the Censor’ to distinguish him from his great-grandson. He grew up on his father’s farm near Reate, north east of Rome, then fought against carthage in the Second Punic War and afterwards had a distinguished political career. He became known as a strict moralist, castigating the ‘new’ extravagance, ostentation, and luxury and advocating a return to the ‘old’ virtues of austerity, honesty, and hard work. He wrote books on many subjects and published his speeches. pliny the Elder praises him for the breadth of his learning (Natural History 25. 4), and columella (De re rustica 1. 1. 12) and Cicero (Brutus 16. 61) honour him as the father of Latin prose. His only surviving work, De agri cultura (‘Concerning the cultivation of the land’), also known as De re rustica (‘Concerning country matters’), is important not only because it is the first lengthy prose work in Latin. De agri cultura is not divided into books or arranged systematically in any other way: Cato’s remarks on viticulture and winemaking are scattered throughout the treatise. The advice he gives is of a severely practical kind. His prime concern is making farming, including wine-growing, profitable through hard work and careful management. For instance, he stresses that the grapes should always be thoroughly ripe when harvested, or one’s wine will lose its good reputation. And in the making and storing of wine he was aware of the importance of hygiene to prevent the wine turning to vinegar. After the vintage, the wine jars should be wiped twice a day, each with its own broom. After 30 days, when fermentation is complete, the jars should be sealed or the wine can be drawn off its lees if desired as an alternative to lees contact. The type of estate he has in mind produces chiefly wine and olive oil: hence his extensive section on the construction of presses.