Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

Greek Winemaking

Posted by dmcker, Sep 12.

Or in this case, ancient Greek wine. Interesting to consider the origins of the wine culture we currently enjoy. Not that it's exactly a straight line from back then to our here and now, but theirs are some of the earliest recountings available to us of winemaking and enjoyment.

Was re-reading Hesiod's 'Works and Days' and found myself paying greater attention to his time-of-year comments that used grape growing and winemaking examples. Hesiod was a rough contemporary of Homer's (8th century BCE). The two of them are the greatest old Greek poets, and can be said to have a greater influence on ancient Greek culture (and what we know about it) than anyone else.


God giving wine to human hero:



Back then calendars weren't as solid a concept or reality, to put it mildly, as they are for us now. So Hesiod's references are interesting

"But when house-on-back the snail crawls from the ground up

the plants..... it's no longer

time for vine digging

time rather to put an edge to your sickles

and rout out your helpers"


"Avoid the 13th of the waxing month

for the commencing of sowing,

But it is a good day for planting plants"


And so on and so forth. Seems like the biodynamic crew might be taking notes...


Perhaps more interesting than the cultivation is the winemaking:

"Then when Orion and Seirios are come to the middle of the sky

and the rosy-fingered Dawn confronts Arcturus

then, Perses, cut off all your grapes, and bring them home with you

Show your grapes to the sun for 10 days and for ten nights,

cover them with shade for five, and on the 6th day

press out the gifts of bountiful Dionysos into jars"


This looks like a bit more hardcore version of the vin de paille techniques still used in Jura and elsewhere. I do like the modern Jura versions.

Dionysos making wine with satyrs and maenads:


Excited old guys making their own wine:



Those ancient Greek jars were amphorae, and after storage in them, when it came time to drink, the very, very dense wine was transferred to kraters, and mixed water-to-wine 3:1 or 5:3. Anyone who drank the stuff straight was expected to go bonkers before too long.

Amphora closures were problematic and oxidation was a serious issue so when the seal on an amphora worked perfectly and the wine could mature without it then that was a special opportunity for joy and appreciation. Resin came in as an adhesive to attempt to keep the closure sealed. Different resins were appreciated for what nose and flavors they might add to a particular wine.

Commercial amphorae from the wreckage of Athens after Rome sacked it:

A nicer one for wealthy home use:


A Mycenean krater from the time of the war with Troy (approx 1200 BCE):


Speaking of Troy, here's some nice detail from a 'jar' (not sure which type), depicting the sack of Troy by the Greeks. Conducive to a proper drinking mood, I'm sure:



Mixing the water and wine preparatory to serving (krater lower left):


Kylix drinking cups (Dionysos in his ship, then satyr & nymph theme):




Reply by rckr1951, Sep 12.

Interesting post, thanks for this.  


Reply by GregT, Sep 13.

I wonder if they had differently shaped glasses for the different kinds of grapes . . .

Reply by dmcker, Sep 13.

That would have to be transparent, colorless crystal, right? The kind that breaks if you look at it wrong so you have to keep buying replacements, especially after parties.  :-(

Interestingly, to the extent we know they didn't praise or collect wine from individual winemakers, but rather regions. So I wonder if there was the preferred Naxos or Cretan kylix shapes (Santorini isn't usually mentioned in the wine context back then)?  ;-)

I do think the black and orange color scheme of the pottery the wealthy folk used would work well with deep (or lighter, depending on how diluted) purple wines, especially in candle, fire or oil-lamp light...

Reply by dmcker, Sep 17.

Here's an interesting article on how the ancient Greeks influenced the Scythians, one of those dreaded 'horse-people' hordes who entered European consciousness from the steppes abutting onto the Black Sea area, to take up wine drinking. Guess just fermented mare's (or yak or goat or sheep) milk was no longer enough after contact with civilization, though they were enlightened enough to have already incorporated ganja sweat lodges, where they were often witnessed laughing their heads off, into their culture. Some speculation that their welded-to-their-horses lifestyle was the origin of the centaur myths. Of course the Scythians drank their wine undiluted....

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