German history: The origins of viticulture to ad 800

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Although the wild vine Vitis vinifera silvestris may be traced back to prehistoric times on the upper Rhine, the cultivated, wine-yielding vine species Vitis vinifera—and with it viticulture in Germany—almost certainly owe their origins to the Romans (see Ancient rome).

Although archaeological discoveries have unearthed curved pruning knives near the sites of Roman garrisons on the left bank of the Rhine which can be dated to the 1st century ad, we cannot be sure they were used for vines. Emperor probus (276–82) is traditionally regarded as the founder of viticulture in Germany but firm literary evidence only occurs with the tract Mosella, written around 370 by the Roman author Ausonius of Bordeaux, who lyrically describes the steep vineyards on the banks of the river.