When wine came to the Aosta Valley is a matter of debate. Some say it was introduced by the Romans, who wanted the region for its strategic location. Others say that the Salassi -- the natives whom the Romans conquered -- were already cultivating grapes when the empire marched in [source: Tango Italia].
Either way, the importance of the wine was quickly recognized. Romans quelled at least one revolt by sacking the local wine cellars. And many historians believe the wine had a sacred quality -- it was used in exorcisms [source: Tango Italia].
Over the ages, the area was variously ruled by the Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards and the Savoy French. The first inhabitants -- predating all the empires and, perhaps, the wine -- were Celts, whose traces remain in certain aspects of the local dialect.
Not until the Middle Ages, however, did Aosta Valley wines begin to come to prominence in the rest of Europe. Aosta's location at the intersection of Italian and French cultures doubtless helped spread the world. Even today, the region's vintners are known by the French word vigneron.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, calamity descended on the Aosta Valley. A plague of Phylloxera fungus nearly wiped out all wine cultivation -- and did, in fact, rob the region of several native varietals that the world will never see again [source: Sonkin].
Then, as the wine growers were struggling to recover, World Wars I and II swept across Europe. The Aosta Valley -- still a border region -- was just as strategically important to modern armies as it had been to the Romans. Combat and occupation threatened to extinguish the region's spirit. But one religious man, the Abbé Alexandre Bougeat, helped keep viticulture alive.
Today, the amount of land devoted to wine production is still less than half what it was in the 1800s. What are today's vignerons growing, and how? Find out on the next page.