Bronze Age

(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.



Antiquity

(1100 BC - 30 BC)

The powerful earthquake on Thera (Santorini) in circa 1160 BC led to the complete destruction of Minoan civilisation. The survivors scattered throughout the island, creating new settlements. The Dorians, who had built up their fleet and army, subsequently occupied the main towns and ruled over the island. This era did not help trade or the expansion of viniculture because it was marked by continuous civil wars between the main cites on the island (Lato, Knossos, Gortyn, Kydonia, Aptera, Phaistos, Polyrenia) as well as successive raids by barbarians and pirates.

Although the population declined due to the continuous conflicts, many of the Minoans who had remained, the so-called Eteocretans, preserved the customs and traditions of their civilisation. Crete may no longer have been at the centre of the world, as Athens, Sparta and Macedonia were then flourishing, but it maintained its winemaking tradition, continuing the systematic cultivation of vines, chiefly covering the people’s own needs. In any case, wine was a product of daily life in the ancient world.

The Code of Gortyn, a city that flourished during the Hellenistic period (late 4th century BC to 67 BC) and was located at almost the centre of Crete, is the oldest piece of Greek legislation that exists and includes regulations for vine-growing, an example of the expansion of this particular branch of agriculture.




Roman Empire

(30 BC - 330 AD)

One of the most brilliant periods of Cretan viniculture came with the island’s incorporation into the Roman Empire. Crete had a strategic position, lying on the axis between Rome and Alexandria, two of the largest centres of the era, with the result that the wine trade flourished and was a main source of income for the inhabitants.

Worn out by the constant wars of the previous centuries, the barbarism of the successive conquerors who persisted in trying to capture the island, Crete exploited the peace, the Romans’ love of wine and, of course, the political stability. The island’s population increased and wine trade once again became the most important factor in economic growth, with viniculture leading the way once more.

Conditions were very favourable thanks to the terrain, the climate and the technical expertise of the people, creating a long tradition in viniculture. From the time when Crete became part of the Roman Empire, despite the fact that the Romans were the first conquerors in the island’s history, wine production took another twist. In this period the wine was known as “Sweet Cretan Wine”. The winemakers had significantly improved the methods of winemaking and were producing excellent sweet wine.

In order to travel easily, and without any damage, the wines had to last long, and so the winemakers began to let the grapes mature more in a natural way, by leaving them exposed to the sun after the harvest, thus achieving a sweet wine with a greater content and a natural alcoholic strength by volume.

Two indications of the great growth in the wine trade are the 17 amphora workshops, which manufactured the jars that were needed to transport the wine to other markets, as well as the inspection mechanisms that the winemakers developed to ensure the quantity and quality of the exported wine.


Byzantine Empire

1st period (330 AD - 824 AD)

Christianity, a new religion at the time, spread quickly after the fall of the Roman Empire and Crete, from a province of the Roman state, became one of the 64 provinces of the Byzantine Empire.

Christianity, which was directly linked to the arts and letters, promoted the vine through every kind of monument and literary work, thanks to its symbolic and theological character. We see images of vines on many wall paintings, stone reliefs, wood carvings and holy vestments of the day, indicating that viniculture continued and was an integral part of the island’s development.


Arab Rule

(824 AD – 961 AD)

Another unpleasant period in the history of Crete, which led to the decline of its Byzantine population as well as its civilisation. The Arabs (Saracens) weakened the population and implemented harsh slave practices during their rule, developing the activity they were best at, piracy.


Byzantine Empire

2nd period (961 AD - 1204 AD)

The reclaiming of the island by the Byzantines and the end of Arab rule marked a new start in Crete’s development and prosperity. Its population increased again, Christianity flourished, monasteries were built and the vine was systematically cultivated to cover local needs.

The fact that the cultivation of the vine and winemaking were a part of daily life and an important activity for the island’s people can be seen in the honours shown to Saint Tryphon, the patron saint of wine in the Christian era.

Wine has an important position in the ritual of the Eucharist and also as a medicine, thanks to its therapeutic qualities. The monasteries cultivated and developed vineyards, preserving the Regulations for the organisation, production and storage of wine, covering at the same time the medicinal needs of their people.



Venetian period

(1204 AD - 1669 AD)

Perhaps the most glorious era in the history of Cretan wine. Wine was the most important commercial good and viniculture spread throughout all the social classes. The vine was favoured as a crop, not only because of the region’s terrain and climate but primarily because wine was a more profitable crop than cereals. It did not require much capital or significant labour and one family could cover its own production needs. Winepresses of the Venetian period can be found in all the villages of the Peza winegrowing zone as well as over the rest of the island, symbolising in this way just how developed viniculture was in this period.

The winepresses were usually made by the feudal lords in order to force the peasants to hand over their must and receive a part of its produce. The winepresses were either constructed or carved and the most popular type were those that were covered by an individual domed press made of porous stone, which was connected by a limestone pipe to the vat where the must was collected. The winepresses had a special opening through which the wine-treaders entered and exited and special openings (‘anemolaos’) through which the press was aired.

Most winepresses were set on sloping ground so that the must could run and be collected in a natural way. Around the vats they carved channels so that the must would run into the vessels to later be transported, with the help of animals, to the storage areas.

The Venetians, skilled merchants of the era, transported the product throughout the whole of Europe, truly spreading the fame of Cretan wine. Its popularity meant that a very high quality wine was demanded and the winegrowers continuously improved their product and, if possible, increased their output.

The main tasks of winemaking were pruning, digging, weeding, digging furrows every three or four years, protecting the fence around the vineyard, planting runners and maintaining the winepress. All the above ensured the production of quality local wine, beyond the controls carried out by the feudal lords, who intervened in many stages of the cultivation process, such as planting, renewing the vines, and the amount of manure, factors that show just how important the correct cultivation of the vines was.

The price of the wine was determined by the type, region and age of the wine, its good preservation and its means of transport on the ships, so as to avoid any acidity. The commercial terms were very strict in order to avoid any adulteration, while the purchase contracts of the era covered all the above aspects that determined the price of the wine.


Ottoman Empire

(1669 AD – 1898 AD)

Perhaps one of the worst periods for viniculture in Crete. The Ottoman Turks did not exploit the island’s wine riches, mainly because of their religion, which forbade the consumption of alcohol, and because they did not know how to utilise this treasure. Indeed, many vineyards were destroyed in a show of might by the conquerors, during the prohibitions on wine drinking that they would sometimes impose, or they were abandoned because of the high tribute tax they imposed.

Crete declined commercially and socially, as there was no infrastructure or desire for growth given that freedom was the priority. A condition of slavery prevailed, with untold damage to the island’s cultural heritage, leading to constant resistance and continuous uprisings.

Viniculture, of course, continued as wine was the second basic commodity after bread and was a fundamental component of the daily diet of the peasant population. Its main continuers were the large families, who rallied together against the occupier by preserving their traditions. Despite their hopes, the imposition of taxes did not allow them to produce high quality wine as in the past. Some Turkish lords on the island, who noticed that it was a good source of taxes, continued to trade in wine, as it provided a basic income for the winemaker, although they did not care for its quality, with the result that Cretan wine lost its allure.



Modern Greece

(1898 AD - today)

Crete was freed from the Turkish yoke, unified with Greece (1913) and reclaimed lost ground following the progress Greek wine had made in the rest of Greece, with the systematic documenting of Greek varieties and vineyards, the establishment of the first Greek oenologists as well as the foundation of the first Greek wine institute.

The Cretan vineyard was reorganised, wine production was modernised and the rebirth of Cretan wine began with the revival and systematic cultivation of all the indigenous varieties. After the unpleasant period of the World Wars, the civil war and phylloxera, and all the unpleasant ramifications they had for the island, viniculture began to grown once more in the mid-1960s, with careful planning to recapture the glory of the past.

The legislation passed to create a national framework for ensuring both origin and high quality (protected designation of origin), following the French model of development, has proven to be an exemplary model for reviving viniculture and the production of high quality wine.

The use of modern technology, the promotion of local and forgotten varieties, the continuous training of local oenologists and winemakers, with the application of new methods of viniculture and winemaking, keep Crete’s wine history alive, furthering its excellence in the production of fine wines.



PDO PEZA

In the Heraklion regional unit, the PDO Peza zone is situated centrally and somewhat to the north. It is an unfragmented zone and applies for the red wines, that were established first in 1971, as well as for white wines, that followed later in 1982. The largest part of the zone is in the northern and central part of the region Nikos Kazantzakis (Peza, Agies Paraskies, Agios Vasileios, Alagni, Astrakoi, Astritsi, Kalloni, Katalagari, Kounavi, Melesses, Myrtia,Choudetsi), while it also includes some smaller areas in the northwestern part of the region Arkalochori (Patsideros, Panorama) and in the northern part of the region Thrapsano (Sambas). 

The defined area for the production of wines of PDO Peza, was determined by Royal Decree No. 539/4.8.1971 (Official Gazette Issue 159/A/14.8.1971), which was then amended by the Presidential Decree No. 446/10.6.1974 (Official Gazette Issue 174/Α/25.6.1974) and by the Presidential Decree No. 12/28.12.1981 (Official Gazette Issue 2/Α/5.1.1982).

The uniqueness of the wines of PDO Peza is due to the special characteristics of the area, in combination with the cultivated varieties and the cultivation techniques. 

The vineyard of Peza stretches round the plain of Peza, at altitudes ranging from 300 to 750-800 meters in deep calcareous soil. The mountains in the center of the island protect the vineyards of the zone from the warm southern winds that can cause problems in the development of the vine. In parallel, the cool northern winds (absence of mountain massifs in the northern side) help so that the temperature during the summer is maintained at satisfactory levels, having as a result, the limiting of heat strokes in the vineyards, as well as the later maturation of wine grapes. 

The red grape variety of Mandilaria -widely planted throughout the Aegean and
called Mandilari in Crete- apart from its presence in PDO Peza wine it also contributes to PDO Archanes, PDO Paros and PDO Rhodes wines. Its rough characteristics make it necessary to have it blended and vinified together with other, softer grape varieties. At Peza and Archanes, winemakers use Kotsifali; in Paros they blend it with the white Monemvassia; it is only in Rhodes that the variety is vinified on its own. Although not required by regulations, the PDO Peza reds traditionally contain a ratio of about 75% Kotsifali and 25% Mandilaria.  

There are 9 wineries within the zone producing red wines and 5 producing white ones.