Ancient Greece: Vinification

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

The harvest was, as in modern Greece, early by European standards: Hesiod recommends early September. Vase paintings suggest that, in many cases, pressing took place near the vineyard: the grapes were trodden inside a handled wicker basket which in turn stood in a wooden trough with low legs, from which the juice ran through a spout into an earthenware vat sunk in a hole in the ground; sometimes a sieve was placed over the mouth of the vat. As pickers brought grapes in, they were added to the basket, while the treader held on to the basket handles or a ring or rope overhead (or a convenient vine) to keep his balance, and worked at crushing in time to a flute. There are also scenes of treading in the vat itself, in which case the skins and pips will not have been strained out, and the wine will have taken colour from the skins, an early form of pigeage. In either case, the vats will then have been covered and the juice taken for fermentation in jars of larger capacity (pithoi); these could be 3 m/10 ft high, with a mouth a metre across. Larger and more specialized establishments had permanent stone treading floors rather than wooden ones, but otherwise the process was the same; although the beam press was normally used for olives, there is little evidence for its use in wine production in classical Greece, and the screw press probably appeared only in Roman republican times. Small-scale producers may well have employed more primitive forms of pressing such as torsion in a fabric container, but no evidence for these survives.