The history of the Basilicata wine region plays out like the plot of an epic summer blockbuster. There are pirates, a volcano and World War II even comes into play. If you want to hear the story in order, start with the volcano, Mount Vulture. Eruptions from more than 40,000 years ago made small portions of land in Basilicata perfect for growing grapes, something the Greeks didn't hesitate to take advantage of when they arrived thousands of years later [source: McCarthy].
While there is still a debate as to the origin of the Aglianico grape in Basilicata, most people believe that the Greeks brought it with them when they took control of the region in the 6th century B.C. After all, Aglianico is very similar to the Greek name for the grape, ellenico [source: Sonkin]. Whether the grape vines were already there or the Greeks implanted them, Basilicata's story is the same as the rest of Italy. The Greeks showed up and started turning grapes into wine.
Now before we get to the pirates, we have to talk about the Roman Empire. It was during the 3rd century B.C. that Rome extended its borders, enveloping the region of Basilicata. They were conquering land all over the place, putting up cities and building their troops along the way. Unfortunately, the trees of Basilicata became a casualty of their conquests. Entire forests were wiped out to supply materials for construction and the land suffered [source: Wine Country]. Sadly, so did wine production.
Then things got worse -- the Saracen pirates showed up and pillaged villages, killing everyone in their path. People were forced to flee their homes and many of them took refuge in the mountains [source: Wine Country]. Basilicata was caught in a downward spiral that would continue for hundreds of years. The economy was in shambles and for a long period, bandits ruled the land, taking anything they wanted.
So how did they turn it all around? Truthfully, they're still working on it, but things did improve after World War II. In 1971, the grapes that had been planted on the slopes of the extinct Mt. Vulture finally got some recognition. Aglianico del Vulture received a DOC designation, giving the locals something to cheer about at last. Since then, Basilicata has added two more DOC wines to its roster, possibly marking the beginning of a new era for wines made in the region. Only time will tell.
Read on to learn more about how the volcano influenced the winemaking of the reason.