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French winemaking started in Italy, tests reveal

Los Angeles TimesJune 9, 2013 

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An Etruscan amphora: Ancient containers, chemists say, helped export Italian viniculture to France. (2013 MCT PHOTO)

MCT - 2013 PHOTO

The giants of wine, the French, have the Italians to thank, it seems.

The story of wine in France – where the industry grew to influence the world – can be traced in part through a vessel called an amphora and likely produced around 525 B.C. to 475 B.C. And, scientists say, a key to the story of wine culture moving to Mediterranean France is Lattara, a coastal site south of Montpelier.

It was there that the French first set up vineyards and made wine, said Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museums of Archaeology and Anthropology.

He was the lead author of a study in which scientists used chemical and archaeological tests on those amphora, as well as studying masses of grape seeds and other remains. Their work on the early French winemaking industry, in place on the Mediterranean by at least the 5th century B.C., was published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Not much has been known about how viniculture moved from east to west across the Mediterranean Sea, eventually reaching Italy and France. There has been knowledge of a wine culture in the Near East as early as the Neolithic period.

Merchant seamen were the primary conveyors of wine as they established colonies along the coasts. By at least 800 B.C., the Etruscans of central Italy had a wine industry, and the amphora was used to hold the wine.

Those vessels eventually filled Etruscan ships headed for Mediterranean France, beginning around 625 B.C.

“The wine trade was one of the principal incentives for the Canaanites and Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans to expand their influence in the Mediterranean Sea,” the researchers wrote. “Where wine went, so other cultural elements eventually followed.”

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