History of wine in crete
AND THERE WAS WINE
The history of the vineyard can be traced back to the furthest reaches of time. Seeds of wild vines have even been found in caves inhabited by prehistoric nomadic tribes. Before the ice age, the vine flourished in the polar zone. Glaciers, however, limited its spreading and pushed various species of wild vines towards warmer zones, such as central and eastern Asia, central and southern Europe, but also the greater area of south Caucasus. That is the birthplace of Vitis vinifera, the wine-bearing vine, several varieties of which are almost exclusively being cultivated today.
The art of viniculture is said to have started with the agricultural revolution around 5,000 BC. The Arians (ancestors of Indians living in the area of Caucasus-Caspian Sea), the ancient Persians, the Semitic people and the Assyrians are considered to be among the first known vine growers. In fact, at that time, wine was known even in ancient China! The art of viniculture and winery was then passed on to the Egyptians, the various peoples of Palestine and Phoenicia, and the Greeks.
Egypt had a long tradition in winery, starting prior to 4000 BC: Ancient Egyptians even used mechanical presses, while amphorae of the New Dynasty (1600 - 1100 BC) have also been discovered, indicating origin, harvest and wine-maker.
Around 1700 BC in Mesopotamia, Babylonian king Hammurabi had passed legislation on the price of wine, but also on having it consumed only during the period after harvest (ageing obviously was an unknown concept at the time). Despite their long tradition, these people soon lost their reputation as great winemakers, which is probably due to the fact that better vine varieties starting growing in the Mediterranean climate of Phoenicia and Greece.
The Semitic people of the eastern Mediterranean got acquainted with wine early on, judging from the numerous accounts found in the Old Testament. The significance of wine in social life was so great; one has only to consider that Jesus Christ performed his first miracle at Cana in Galilee, turning water into wine so that the wedding he was invited to could continue.
Phoenicians were renowned winemakers, but also merchants: Phoenician wine amphorae have been found in every region of eastern and central Mediterranean. One of the first great centres of maritime wine trading was Tyros.
Greeks developed winery to a great extent, almost establishing a monopoly in the market for centuries. They acquired knowledge of wine probably when they first settled at their current land. It is not certain whom they learned the art of winery from, but, according to one of the most prevalent theories, they learned it from the eastern people (Phoenicians or Egyptians), with whom the Greeks, especially the Minoans, had developed commercial relations.
Wine as a core element
of the first European civilization
Crete, “the land in the midst of the wine-dark sea,” according to Homer.
However, the history of wine in Crete and its bonds with the island have deeper roots, dating even further back than the Homeric epics.
One hundred years have passed since internationally-acclaimed archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans brought to light the miracle of the Minoan Civilization in Crete. At the palace of Knossos, the oldest architectural monument in Europe, luxurious four-storey buildings were found, with services the rest of Europe acquired several thousands of years later. Evans was so impressed by the living standards of ancient Cretans he very often praised them in front-page articles in the world’s most popular journals. The multicoloured wall-paintings in Minoan Palaces depict a life full of creativity, good taste and in complete harmony with the natural environment.
Minoans cultivated their land and tasted what it so generously offered. Hundreds of tablets discovered by archaeologists show a flourishing economy with agricultural, livestock-raising and commercial activities. The main products Cretans successfully cultivated and traded were olive oil, cereals and wine.
The vine has known around 4000 years of systematic cultivation in Crete! No wonder that the oldest wine-press (3500 years old) was found in the region of Vathipetro. Homer informs us that, at his time, Cretan wines were renowned throughout the known world. Apart from the 3500-year-old wine-press, impressive amphorae, vast underground wine storage facilities and relevant drawings in all Minoan Palaces provide evidence not only of wine’s central role in the life of the island, but also of the sophistication of the Minoans’ know-how.
However, Cretan wine was not confined to the island. It travelled. Minoans went all around the Mediterranean, their ships filled with products of the Cretan land. So they reached the court of the most powerful man in the world, the Egyptian Pharaoh: Egyptian wall paintings depict Cretan ships arriving at Egyptian ports. Merchandise included amphorae, probably filled with Cretan wine. At the wreckage of such a ship off the coast of Turkey, archaeologists found a sealed amphora filled with wine over 3000 years old.