Some areas in the Penedés region were home to Neolithic civilizations [source: BCNinternet]. The area's viticultural history extends back at least 2,500 years to when the Phoenicians planted the first Chardonnay grapes [source: CIV]. The ancient Greeks and Romans did their share to expand wine cultivation and trading in the area. The Romans built the port of Barcelona to secure their strategic control over the Mediterranean. Because the city and the Penedés region both fell along the Via Augusta river, demand for Penedés wines spread throughout the Mediterranean region [source: Torres]. This commerce accelerated after the Roman Empire fell and held more or less steady through the Middle Ages.
The supremacy of the Catholic Church ensured a steady market, since religious orders needed vast quantities of wine for holding mass [source: DO Penedés]. Demand held so strong that even during the Moorish occupation of the peninsula, the Islamic rulers did not interfere with production [source: CIV]. The 13th century was an especially prosperous period for the region's agriculture, but the Black Death plague caused a major setback in the 14th century. The next agricultural boom for Penedés did not arrive until the 18th century, with the securing of markets in England, the Netherlands and, crucially, the Americas [source: Enoturisme Penedés].
Through the early centuries, the wines of the Penedés region were primarily red varieties. This began to change in the second half of the 19th century for two reasons. The first was the introduction of Cava to the region in 1872 [source: DO Penedés]. For a few years, while French vineyards suffered from the phylloxera bug plague, Catalonian Cava sold in huge numbers throughout Europe [source: Enoturisme Penedés]. By 1876, however, the epidemic had begun to spread across the Pyrenees into Spain, decimating the area's vines. As the region recovered, its wine production gradually shifted from red grapes to white [source: Wein-plus].
Read on for more about the Penedés wine region's agriculture.