Archaeological evidence from vineyards and inns demonstrates the importance of ancient viticulture to the town and environs of Pompeii
Imported and locally produced wine was a popular commodity in Pompeii. The fertile soil of Vesuvius and the climate of the region provided the ideal conditions for the growing of grapes. Many of the types of vine cultivated were not found anywhere else on the Italian peninsula.
Many villas in the countryside around Pompeii were dedicated to producing wine for the town’s ready market. Pompeii’s inns also produced their own local vintages, growing grapes and brewing on the premises.
Popular Wines in Pompeii.
The type of wines sold and drunk in Pompeii and their place of origin can be identified from wine amphorae. Amphorae were usually labeled, showing their place of origin and often the type of wine they contained. Even when a label is missing, it is possible to guess the location of the wine from the amphorae themselves; their shapes and materials used in their manufacture subtly varied from place to place.
The House of Amarantus is a wine shop is the perfect place to discover the different types of wine on sale in Pompeii. Identified as a wine dealer’s by an election notice nearby, the interior of the property contained full containers of wine, stacked in the garden and in the house itself.
Many of the amphorae were inscribed in Greek. Those that were found in fragments have been pieced together. An estimated 30 of the vessels came from Crete.
Besides Crete, other popular foreign wines on sale in Pompeii came from Tauromenium in Sicily, and amphorae containing the Sof wine of Cos have also been found. Vintages were also imported from as far as Turkey, reflecting the cosmopolitan tastes of the locals.
The most popular types of wines, however, were local Campanian wines. In the House of Amarantus, a whole stack was stored in the garden area. Amongst the many local wines identified in Pompeii overall were Falernus , the famous Falerian wine, and Setian wine which was produced 100 miles from Pompeii. Wines from local Campanian towns such as Sorrento, Cumae and Capua were also sold. Many, of the wines, however, originated from the area around Pompeii itself.
Viticulture Around Pompeii: Boscoreale.
The area about Pompeii was particularly fertile due to the volcanic soil and this coupled with the southern Italian weather created the perfect conditions for growing grapes. The preserved remains of vines have allowed for the identification of the different vine types grown in the Pompeii area. The most common have been identified as Murgentine or Pompeiian vines and Horconian vines, types specific to Campania.
The remains of commercial wineries on the edge of Pompeii and its environs have also been identified. These outlets were established by wealthy landowners, eager for the profits of viticulture but well able to afford the initial outlay whilst waiting for the newly planted vines to mature.
Boscoreale, is about a kilometer to the north of Pompeii. It has several examples of these vineyards and their wine producing villas:
The Villa of Pisanella. Here, we can see how wine was produced and stored. In a large room, archaeologists found two large presses, counterbalanced with weights for pressing the grapes. In an external courtyard, 120 clay doliae for storing wine were buried. Collectively, they had the capacity for storing 50,000 litres of wine.
The Villa Regina. This small country villa was dedicated to wine production. Its small yard stored wine in 18 doliae, giving a total capacity for 10,000 litres of wine.
Villa Regina’s vineyards were organised in a very different way to their modern equivalents. From the imprints of vine roots left in the soil, archaeologists have discovered that it was common to grow vines amongst other trees. Trees identified in the vineyard of the Villa Regina include peach, figs, olives and almonds.
The villa was also unique in that it was only used during the day. It contained dining rooms but no bedrooms, suggesting that the owner used it for conducting business and entertaining clients before returning to Pompeii in the evening.
Vineyards and Wineries within Pompeii.
Wine was also made and grown within the town of Pompeii itself. Many houses in the city had substantial tracts of lands used as kitchen or urban market gardens. Many of the garden areas dedicated to vines were attached to inns, which used their home-grown grapes to brew wine to sell to their customers.
The Inn of Euxinus is one example. Marked by a lucky phoenix and two peacocks- symbols of the owner’s goodwill to his customers- the inn’s garden had 32 vines planted in irregular rows .
Wine was also brewed on the premises, to supplement many of the imported vintages on offer. Two large pottery dolia were excavated, each capable of holding 100 gallons-a testament to the popularity of Euxinus’s home brew.
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Dobbins, J J and Foss, P W (eds) (2008).The World of Pompeii. Routledge: London and New York