Perhaps more than in any other winemaking country, vintages matter in France because an important part of terroir — the climate — can vary widely from year to year.
All of which makes me wonder what the early French vintages were like. And when I say early, I mean early.
As we noted in a 2007 blog, Roman ruins found in southern France were declared remnants of the country’s earliest known winery.
The large site, built around 10 A.D., was still surrounded by vines on the outskirts of Clermont l’Herault, in the heart of Languedoc wine country.
“It’s really exceptional, and very elaborate,” Stephane Maune, head of the site and archaeologist with France’s CNRS research institute, told Decanter.com at the time.
Mini craters that once formed the bases of huge pottery wine vessels sat in neat rows where the old winery building stood. Each one held up to 1,800 liters, while irrigation channels showed how winemakers used water to maintain a constant temperature.
A villa, complete with 200-meter swimming pool, was attached to the building.
Maune said inscriptions named the founder as Quintus Iulius Primus, who probably came from southern Italy to invest in the region’s burgeoning wine industry.
Romans arrived in Languedoc-Roussillon via Narbonne around 118 B.C. Historians know that after subduing local tribes, the Romans cultivated vines to send wine back to Italy.
“There was lots of economic development in this area. You have good access into ancient Gaul, and there were ports close by,” Maune said.
Winemaking has come a long way in France since then, of course. Today, modern technology in the cellars can help vintners overcome some of Mother Nature’s wrath during challenging harvest seasons, while enhancing her gifts in trouble-free vintages.
When it all comes together — terroir, vintage, wine estate and winemaker — the wines of France are among the best in the world.
Click here for a few tasty examples.