Italy — with France one of the world's two mammoth wine producers, sometimes producing as much as 60 million hl/1,584 million gal a year. Italy has more land under vine than any other country other than France and Spain, although thanks to the European vine pull scheme, the total has been reduced from close to 1.4 million ha/3.4 million acres in the early 1990s to a forecast 856,000 ha/2.1 million acres by 2004. Italy routinely exports more wine than any other country, including France—much of it inexpensive wine for blending in and possible re-export from France and Germany.
Unlike either France or Spain, however, the vine is cultivated virtually everywhere in the Italian peninsula, from the alps in the north to islands that are closer to the coast of North Africa than to the Italian mainland. Viticulture impinges on the national consciousness, on the national imagination, and on daily life in a way that is hardly conceivable to those not accustomed to the Mediterranean way of life and its dietary trinity of bread, olive oil, and wine; until the late 1980s, it was unthinkable for Italians to sit down and eat without wine on the table. There are few Italians without some conception of how grapes are grown and transformed into wine.
The result is what might be called the Italian paradox: a country with a multi-millennial tradition of wine, a country whose Roman legions spread viticulture to a large part of western Europe, a country where wine is omnipresent in the nation's life and customs, is also a country where wine is, for the most part, taken for granted in the national consciousness. While France and Germany played a major role from the beginning of the age of modern wine—an era in which wine circulates in bottles with labels which identify both its provenance and its maker—wine in most of Italy, with the exception of Piemonte, Toscana, and a few other scattered areas, was sold in bulk until well after the Second World War. Little of the country's better wine was exported until the 1970s, and a significant part of the export trade was in important volumes of wine for the large colonies of Italian emigrants in northern Europe, in the United States, and in South America (Argentina, for example, was a major market for Barolo immediately after the Second World War). Knowledge of non-Italian viticulture and oenology was virtually non-existent in Italy, and circulation of foreign wines was confined to a tiny élite in the country's major cities. Luigi Veronelli's book at the end of the 1950s was the first general treatment of Italian wines in over 350 years, since Andrea Bacci's opus of 1595. And even in the early 1990s, wine appreciation was an activity of very little significance to Italians.
To consider the history of wine in Italy is to consider the history of Italy itself, however; wine and Italian civilization are virtually synonymous. The Ancient Greek name for much of Italy already acknowledged the importance of viticulture to the peninsula: Oenotria, or 'land of trained vines'.
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