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Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Gaul, part of western Europe closely approximating to modern France which existed before the rise of classical rome. The élites of the celtic communities beyond the alps were large-scale consumers of wine, long before they were producers. The accoutrements of the Greek and Roman dinner party are frequently found amid the grave goods of Celtic chieftains. Their passion for wine was even claimed as the motive for the Gallic invasions of the Mediterranean world from the 4th century bc onwards (see e.g. Livy, 5. 33). The widespread ready market in Gaul for wine, as well as the slaves who were offered in exchange, was a major stimulus for exports from Italy, particularly in the last century bc (Diodorus, 5. 26). The cultivation of vines arrived with Greek settlers at Massilia (Marseilles) about 600 bc. From them the Gauls ‘got used to living by the rule of law, and to pruning the vine, and planting the olive’ (Justin, 43. 4. 1). But the real impetus came with the arrival of Roman settlers from the end of the 2nd century bc. By the end of the 1st century bc southern France and the rhône valley (Gallia Narbonensis) were planted with all the fruit that Mediterranean visitors expected. But beyond the Cévennes was a world where ‘no vine, olive, or fruit grew’, as the great scholar varro (De re rustica, 1. 7. 8) noticed while on campaign there. The reasons for this were part sociological and part ecological. Some tribes banned the drinking of wine and even massacred traders, in the belief that it undermined their manliness and was the explanation of their defeats by Julius Caesar’s armies. More significant was the need for vines which were resistant to frost. The 1st century ad was a time of considerable development in the south, including wines from Baeterrae (Béziers) and around Vienne (see côte rôtie), where the Allobrogica vine was noted for producing a wine with a natural resinated taste. Wines from this region competed in the markets of Italy and the western Mediterranean, as the finds of the distinctive local amphorae confirm. Elsewhere in Gaul it is more difficult to trace the introduction of viticulture. The garonne was an important trade route from an early date; so it is highly likely that the bordeaux region was developed in the 1st century ad. On the other hand, the first references to vineyards in burgundy, on the moselle, and in the area of paris belong to the 4th century ad. However, recent archaeological finds suggest that viticulture may have developed considerably earlier in many regions than the inadequate literary sources suggest. For example, the discovery of kilns producing amphorae for wine from the late 1st century ad onwards on the loire and its tributaries is testimony to the presence of viticulture in an area for which there is no other evidence. The scale of production should not be exaggerated. The modern map of wine production in France owes less to the Romans than to the Christian Church in the post-Roman period (see charlemagne and monks and monasteries).