Sardinia and wine, an enduring bond, with origins in the Nuraghic era, if not earlier. Recent studies of findings in Nuraghic archeological sites suggest the fascinating idea that wine-making activity was already underway as long ago as that. Other studies define the important role of Sardinia in the domestication of wild grapevines, aided by peoples who brought their own oenological skills to the island.
The grapevine is an integral feature of the Sardinian landscape. It is to be found almost everywhere, from the fertile plains near the sea to the hills, as well as in interior zones, where winemaking is often magically linked to age-old traditions. Viticulture has long occupied an important role in the Sardinian agricultural economy. The unique oenological and territorial characteristics of this region allow for an intensive viticulture, characterised by a high quality oenological production which reaches a high standard of excellence in favoured zones. Used at first as a barter commodity, wine later became a commercial product in its own right. Over time, it developed into a messenger of culture and civility for so many peoples, and on our island, the ancient link between man and wine has lasted for uncountable centuries. It is almost certain that the Vitis Vinifera, like the olive, is an indigenous Sardinian wild plant, so much so that peoples in arrival carried neither stock not branches, but the art of grafting, as well as techniques for the production and conservation of wine. Ever since its most remote origins, Sardinia has profited from what was brought by successions of foreign populations during their various periods of domination of the island. Semitic, Cretian and Phoenician peoples created their various bases along the coasts; among which, Tharros and Kalaris, which became important and prosperous colonies. Punic, Roman and Byzantine peoples came next. The Phoenicians, great viticulturalists, as well as able navigators, spread the culture of winemaking around the zones bordering on their colonies, whilst they were seeking to extend their commerce in the central-west Mediterranean. The Punics found a winemaking culture already in place: a culture which was to become dominant in the colonies of Kalaris, Tharros, Cornus, Nora and Olbia, thanks to their ever-developing relationship with the Sardinians.
The violent expulsion of the Punics by the Romans marked the start of a long period of Roman domination for Sardinia. Many archaeological remains relating to viticulture bear testimony to winemaking activities of the era. Findings in the important Arrubiu nuraghi complex at Orroli in the province of Cagliari where actual oenological workshops dating from the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. have been discovered. Baths for grape-pressing, bases of wine presses and various types of vessels were also found. Perhaps the most surprising find is grape seeds dating from the same period, found below the same nuraghe. Such vine species are still to be found today.
Many and varied are the traces of Roman civilisation to be foundon the island: necropolis and tombs bear witness to oenological activities in the form of decorations and furnishings which clearly refer to wine-making, as well as agronomic terms in Latin, and production techniques still in use today.
The Roman era came to an end around the middle of the 5th century with the invasion of the Vandals; the destruction and abandonment of the culture which accompanied the period brought about the resumption of intensive agrarian activity by the Byzantines. One result of this was the introduction of new vines, over and above the well organised norm of the period. In particular, it was the Basilican monks, of Greek ritual, who contributed to the renaissance of vine culture through the planting of new vines around their monasteries.
Sardinia was one of the seven Byzantine provinces, the“Exarchate of Africa”, and when Arab peoples, converted to Islam, invaded territories facing the Mediterranean in the 7th century, Sardinia was only marginally involved, passing relatively unharmed through the period during which Moslem rulings forbade the consumption of wine. Sardinian winemaking carried on uninterrupted. Following the decline of the Byzantine Empire, the four Giudicati of Cagliari, Arborea, Torres and Gallura were born. During the Giudicati period, Sardinia set about consolidating and increasing its wine production, protecting vine cultivation and commerce by means of truly exemplary legislation. Such regulations were codified in the Codice Rurale di Mariano IV d’Arborea, dating back to 1353, and formed part of the Carta de Logu, issued by Eleonora d’Arborea at the end of the 1300’s. Severe sanctions, generally pecuniary, but going as far as the cutting off of the left hand, for those who uprooted or set fire to the vines of others, were imposed.
In the Codice degli Statuti del Libero Comune di Sassari, dating from the late 1200’s, article 128 applied to over-production of vines in the north of the island, introducing even so long ago, the current system governing the planting of new vines, “De non pastinare vingna: Nobody, man nor woman may plant nor have planted vines in the territory of Sassari or nearby, except if someone has a vine and wants to uproot it from the land, he/she can only replace the number uprooted, and if someone has fallow-land, he can plant tricla or similar vines, not to be transformed into wine on his/her land”. Between the 13th and 18th centuries, new cultivars were introduced to the island under Aragonese and Spanish domination. Such types, both of black and white types, are still, for the most part, under cultivation. The introduction of the new system of growing vines known as sa catalanisca, which means without support, as opposed to the sa sardisca, where vines were supported is also attributed by some to this period. Other historians maintain that this system was already in use in Sardinia during the Roman era, from which use the term alberello latino derives, and is still in use. At the end of the 19th century, that is to say before phylloxera devastated vine plantations, Sardinia had about 80,000 hectares dedicated to specialised vine growing.
After replantation of new vines grafted onto American rootstocks, viticulture took off again and expanded to such a point that around 75,000 hectares were occupied. Alongside this growth of winemaking, programmed with incentives by the Regione Sardegna, cooperatives for the processing of grapes in modern plants took place.
The winemaking structure, well set up and in constant development, is flanked by cooperative and private infrastructures, represented by small and medium businesses, using modern technology at the avantgarde of organisation and commercialisation of wine production.
The application of “state of the art” technology has finally allowed Sardinia to compete in the marketing of quality wines with the greatest European producers. On this generous, hospitable island, the climate, the soil and the species of vines knowledgeably nurtured by mankind have given birth to wines of high quality, some vigorous and robust, others elegant and aristocratic, but always conceived in harmony between production and environment. The equilibrium and singular taste sensations of Sardinian wines remind us of the richly-coloured fabrics of the island’s traditional costumes, an expression of ancient Sardinian culture. Imagination runs unbounded in this extraordinary land, perfumed with the Mediterranean scrub, lashed by the Mistral and cradled by sea breezes