Winemaking is an integral part of Italy’s history, dating back at least 4,000 years to when prehistoric people crushed wild grapes into juice that was then fermented. The peninsula’s mild Mediterranean climate is so suitable to cultivating grapes that, when the ancient Greeks arrived on Italy’s southern shores in the 8th century B.C., they named the land Oenotria, “The land of wine.” In fact, the Etruscans, whose civilization predated Rome, were already well known as producers of quality wines.
Ancient Romans honed their knowledge of viticulture and enology and established a flourishing wine trade throughout the Roman Empire, until its collapse in the 5th century A.D. Subsequently, the cultivation of vineyards and wine production techniques deteriorated in Italy, and for many centuries wine was produced primarily for local consumption and for sacramental use by the Catholic Church. In fact, it was European monks who mainly kept winemaking traditions alive during the Dark and Middle Ages. The culture of wine gained importance again during the Italian Renaissance, when princes and nobles became patrons of the arts and threw lavish, wine-laden banquets to celebrate their magnificence.
The 19th century saw great advancements in the vinification and aging process of Italian wines, and the use of corks to seal bottles permitted orderly shipping of wine worldwide. Appellations such as Chianti, Barolo and Marsala became known throughout Europe and beyond.
Italy did not become a unified country until 1861. Its 20 regions have always maintained their distinctive identities, which are reflected in the great variety of regional wines. In addition to local varieties, Italian soils also proved favorable to a number of foreign grapes, such as Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio.
In the late 19th century, an infestation of the grape louse phylloxera plagued the vineyards of Italy and many other European countries. Then, the World Wars and ensuing economic turmoil dealt a further blow to Italian wine production, causing growers to focus on quantity over quality. Italy became one of the world’s leading purveyors of low cost wine, which while profitable for some, did little for the image of Italian wine abroad.
It was not until the 1960s that Italy experienced a modern renaissance in winemaking. The DOC (Denominazione d’origine controllata) laws were passed to regulate production and to safeguard historic appellations and production methods. The DOC system is based on geographic regions and includes requirements for grape varieties, yields and winemaking techniques. In the 1980s, DOCG laws emerged, the G standing for “Garantita,” thus guaranteeing the high quality of the wine. Italy currently produces over 300 DOC appellations and boasts 74 DOCG producing zones.
Today, Italy’s wine culture is more vibrant than ever. There is a greater diversity of grapevines grown in Italian soil than anywhere else in the world. Well known for its bold, age worthy red wines, Italy also produces terrific reds made for everyday drinking and an impressive array of white and sparkling wines.
Throughout the centuries, wine has been at the heart of Italian culture, with winemakers constantly refining and innovating their craft while maintaining a deep respect for tradition. It is with great joy that they share their passion for wine with the world.
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 MsThe Wines of Italy, by Burton Anderson. Published by the Italian Trade Commission (2006)
 The Wines of Italy, by Burton Anderson. Published by the Italian Trade Commission (2006)
 The Wines of Italy
 The Wines of Italy