Even though it's a relatively unknown area, humans have inhabited Molise for as many as 700,000 years [source: Reiss]. The Museum of Santa Maria delle Monache at Isernia displays archaeological evidence that an intelligent Paleolithic hominid lived here when the region's topography resembled the primeval African savannah [source: ItalianMade]. So someone has clearly been valuing the area for quite a while -- and with good reason.
Historically, Molise is associated with the civilization of the Samnites, an Italic tribe who fought (and sometimes defeated) the Roman Legions over the course of several centuries. The scope of wine cultivation expanded greatly when the Romans controlled the region [source: D'Ancona]. The archaeological record of the Samnites includes many depictions of wine and grapevines on vases and even coins, suggesting that the inebriating beverage assumed an important role in the culture and perhaps the economy of the Samnites [source: ItalianMade].
Following the fall of Rome, Molise was invaded by Lombardians and other foreign tribes. One feudal strongman from the 12th century, Count Ugo of Molhouse (or Molisio), gave the region its name [source: Trips2Italy]. From that time, the region entered into the Kingdom of Naples, passing from Spanish to Austrian to French control, until 1860, when Italy was unified. In the 20th century, the region was devastated during World War II, and abandoned by successive generations who fled to more prosperous regions [source: Wine Country].
All through the roiling centuries and into the present day, the way of life in Molise has stayed remarkably consistent. It is an area of shepherds and subsistence farmers, a place justifiably proud of its rustic traditions and fiercely interested in their preservation. The tourist industry, which has become so prevalent throughout Italy, has only begun to make inroads into Molise. The region's vintners have initiated the Strada del Vino del Molise (Molise Wine Roads) program, which aims to promote tourist packages showcasing the region's existing culture, especially its wine and cuisine [source: D'Ancona].