Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

June 13, 2013

Study finds origins of French winemaking

PARIS (AP) — 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, 2013 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.

Besides the amphorae, the researchers also analyzed a limestone press found at Lattara and demonstrated that it was in fact 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.

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