NEWS

Discovery of a press confirms wine-making on site

Let us talk about Santorini and the famous city of Akrotiri. What oenological findings are there? The excavation at Akrotiri on Thera (modern-day Santorini) has given us more information about viticulture in the Cyclades in the Bronze Age. Thanks to modern methods and techniques now used in archaeology, and drawing information even from the humblest finds, we have concluded that Akrotiri had one of the richest collections of flora and fauna in the Aegean at that time. To understand just how important findings of this nature are, it is enough to say that studying them has given us information about the general climate and environmental conditions at that time, about the species of plants cultivated, the livestock animals bred, cultivation methods, as well as the people’s dietary habits in prehistory. Among the samples analyzed are traces of vine-wood coal and grape stems that appear with great frequency. That means that viticulture was one of the farming activities on Thera, at least during the 17th century BC. Grapes are depicted on jars dating from that time, both painted and embossed, indicating that grapes were not simply a product to be traded but a popular foodstuff. Of course, these findings confirm that grapes were cultivated, not necessarily that wine was produced, although for this we have other more tangible indications and references, such as jars with a tap just above a narrow base. Are they like the 3rd millennium BC jars found in Poliochni, Lemnos? Not exactly. The jars found in Akrotiri differ from their predecessors in the 3rd millenium BC in that right above the tap there are decorations consisting exclusively of a line of circles. Each line is different with regard to what it encircles – an empty surface, a cross, a solid disc or concentric circles. Nine different designs have been recognized, each of them apparently functioning as an indication of the type of product stored within. One wonders if they refer to just the type of product, the variety or quality. It is difficult to name nine different liquid products that are stored in jars. So we suppose that it was just one product with nine different varieties or qualities. The only one that comes to mind is wine; storing wine according to category was already known from Homeric times. Homer used 10 different adjectives to classify wine, six describing the feelings that each taste elicited and four indicating color and age. These terms certainly determined the variety or quality that naturally called for storage in separate containers, marked accordingly. That is very interesting, but we are still only looking at indications that there was wine production. That is so. Everything we have mentioned so far does not constitute proof that wine was produced. That came from the bowels of the earth of Santorini, in the form of a pair of vessels found in all wine presses in Minoan Crete. The discovery of a wine press at Akrotiri not only confirmed the production of wine on the site, but gave what is to date the only information about the processing of must. A cylindrical container made of the wood of the chaste tree, of a size that would lead one to assume it could have been used in the wine press, was found filled with lime and closed with a lid, also made of woven chaste tree branches. I personally had not known that lime was used in antiquity in wine production. However I am told that even today lime is used in traditional societies to purify must. Also, in a Linear B inscription engraved on the lip of a jar is the logogram for wine as found on ancient monuments in Crete, confirming the use of the particular jar for storing wine. So we are sure about both viticulture and wine production. Do we know how and where it was consumed? There are references to the distribution of wine. A category of standardized vessels that have their mouth at the side have been recognized as the typical containers for transporting wine and oil. So far Akrotiri has provided at least 50 percent of all these early containers known throughout the Aegean, including Crete. If one considers the very small area explored at Akrotiri so far, one realizes the importance of that percentage. It is quite clear that trade in wine and oil played a large part in the economy of Thera.