The History of Single Vineyard Designates

For thousands of years it’s been known that certain vineyards consistently produce higher quality wine than the surrounding vineyards. This was well known during the Ancient Roman Empire, and was rediscovered by monks in the Middle Ages. The tradition continues to modern times as many New World wineries have begun adding the name of their best vineyards on their wine labels.

Ancient Rome and Falernum

The most famous vineyard in Ancient Rome was called Falernum, located in the modern-day region of Campania in Italy. The wine from here was so famous it was said that Bacchus, the god of wine, had himself created the vineyard. The story goes that he came disguised to a poor farmer in the area, and the farmer was a gracious host, offering the god both wine and food despite his limited means. In gratitude, Bacchus covered the surrounding hillside with beautiful grapevines.

In reality Falernum was actually made up of three vineyards. The first, Caucinian was located at the top of the hill, then Faustian was located midway up the slope, and lastly Falernian proper was located on the bottom of the slope. Of the three Faustian was considered the best.

Did You Know: Unlike the famous wines of nearby Pompeii, which were produced on a large scale, Falernum production was small which kept the wines expensive and somewhat rare. The vineyard was famous for centuries, until about the second century AD when a proliferation of counterfeit Falernum wines weakened the wine’s status. 

Burgundy in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages most of the European wine industry was controlled by the Catholic Church. This was especially true in Burgundy where many of the vineyards were owned by monasteries. The monks were responsible for taking care of the vineyards and making the wine. After years of work and careful record keeping, the Burgundian monks began to realize that certain vineyards consistently produced better wine than others. After centuries, the monks had identified Burgundy’s best vineyards. In some cases, the monks even built walls around the best vineyards to distinguish them from the surrounding vines.  These vineyards are still famous today, and produce some of the most expensive wine in the world.

Clos Vougeot

Single Vineyard Wines in the New World

In the New World putting the name of a vineyard on the wine label is relatively new. In California one of the first wineries to put the name of a vineyard on their label was Heitz Cellars in 1966 with their Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then more wineries in the New World have started making single vineyard wines. The single vineyard wines are generally the more expensive and higher quality wines offered by a winery in the New World.


Also read: The Storied History of Clovis I

Want to read more? Try these books!

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“History of Burgundy.” n.d. Sommelier à Beaune En Bourgogne.

O’Donnell, Ben. 2011. “The Cult Wine of 121 B.C. | Wine Spectator.” Wine Spectator. Wine Spectator. March 29, 2011.

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: February 19, 2023Last Updated: February 28, 2024

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