(2900 BC - 1100 BC.)
Prehistoric Crete was, according to the finds thus far, a unique civilisation, the starting point of which can be dated to somewhere around the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. The Minoans, the first true European civilisation, adopted the methods of viniculture most probably from the Egyptians, who had already developed a tradition in wine production. Wine was not, however, the Egyptians’ national product, which is believed to have been beer, given the large barley yields.
The rocky and mountainous terrain of Crete, its mild climate, intense sunshine and sufficient rainfall, in combination with the development of navigation encouraged the Minoans to make wine and export it to their neighbouring peoples.
The wine presses, containers, vessels, the texts on the Linear Α and Β (syllabic script) clay tablets, as well as the wall paintings depicting images of everyday life are indisputable evidence that there was significant wine production in this period, primarily on the north side of the island where the palace of Minos stood at Knossos.
The harvest began for the Minoans with the moon’s declining illumination or a harvest moon in the weeks around the autumnal equinox. This was the most festal farm work of the season, as it provided the opportunity for all people of all ages working tirelessly in the mornings and celebrating at night to get together, a tradition that is still kept today.
Initially, the farmers, usually those from the surrounding regions, would gather and the work was divided according to gender and age. Everyone had a role in the work, which included cutting down the grapes, carrying them, securing the food, as well as supervising the crops.
The crushing of the grapes, after they were cut down, was done either in the vineyard or in a communal space. There were two methods, crushing by hand (press) and treading in the winepress (‘linos’), the latter being the most common. Treading was a strictly male activity as endurance and technique were required to crush grapes. The winepresses were essentially clay containers with a clay vat (‘hypolenion’) in order to collect the must.
In order to store the must, they used jars set next to the winepresses, which were sealed either with lime or plaster, so that no excess humidity would seep in and make the wine acidify. In order to transport and store the must, they used vessels or wine skins, which were easy to make and easy to store and so the wine could easily be transported to neighbouring countries. The Minoans would often write on the vessels what the type of wine was and a designation of origin.
The Minoans developed viniculture to a high degree, including wine in their everyday lives and, especially, their diets. Minoan wine was used mainly in trade, dealings and the various ritual activities.