PARIS – Scrapings from the bottoms of 2,500-year-old pottery containers have shed new light on the origins of French winemaking.
A team of archaeologists led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Patrick McGovern used biomolecular analysis to confirm that fifth century B.C. Etruscan amphorae found near Montpellier in southern France once contained a type of wine flavored with thyme, rosemary and basil.
Archaeological evidence and ancient texts have long provided reasonable certainty that seafaring Etruscans from central Italy introduced imported wine to their trading outpost of Lattara, now the French city of Lattes. The new evidence backs this up.
The study, published in the May 1 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also demonstrates that local Celts had begun making wine at Lattara by the end of the fifth century B.C.
Tracing winemaking’s ancient roots is important because of wine’s “crucial role in the transfer of culture from one people to another around the world,” the study says.
Some evidence exists that Greeks living in what is now Marseille began making a local wine around the same time or even earlier. But McGovern’s research is the first to prove using chemical analysis that the Celts in Lattara had learned how to make wine from Etruscans and had begun producing it themselves by at least the fifth century B.C., McGovern said.
McGovern is the author of “Ancient Wine: the Search for the Origins of Viniculture.”
Besides the amphorae, researchers also analyzed a limestone press found at Lattara and demonstrated that it was used to press grapes, not olives, as had been thought previously.
“First the Etruscans built up an interest in wine, then the native Gauls saw that this was something that they wanted to do themselves,” McGovern said. The Gauls would have learned grape growing and winemaking techniques from the Etruscans, with whom Lattara was an important trading outpost on France’s Mediterranean shore.
Hundreds of years later, the Roman invasion helped spread winemaking across what is now France.
“It’s new to use this kind of analysis on the amphorae at Lattara, but it’s a confirmation, it’s not especially new,” Garcia said.
Garcia said that whether it was the Celts or the Greeks who were the first to make wine in what is now France, “The bottom line is that the expansion of wine culture in France was due to the Romans.”