Cato the Elder

De Agri Cultura, written by famed Roman soldier, author and statesman Cato the Elder around 160 BC, is among the earliest manuals covering the growing of grapes and the making of wine.  In it he writes detailed instructions on the proper establishment of a profitable farm and vineyard.  He emphasizes the careful selection of vines, taking into consideration the specific type of soil of the vineyard site.

“In soil which is thought to be best adapted for grapes and which is exposed to the sun, plant the small Aminnian, the double Eugeneum, and the small parti-colored; in soil that is heavy or more subject to fogs, plant the large Aminnian, the Murgentian, the Apician, and the Lucanian. The other varieties, and especially the hybrids, grow well anywhere.”

He gives a complete list of the staff needed to manage a vineyard of 100 iugera (66 acres), including “an overseer, a housekeeper, 10 labourers, 1 teamster, 1 muleteer, 1 willow-worker, 1 swineherd — a total of 16 persons,”  and his list of equipment is comprehensive, listing even the number of candlesticks and pruning-hooks the prospective vineyard manager will need.

The 1st century B.C. manuscript reads almost like a modern instruction manual for vineyard management, exhibiting a sophistication that is hard to believe existed over two thousand years ago.   Cato encouraged vineyard managers to take an active role with grapevines with vigorous training, pruning, and fertilization.

“Tie a well-knotted vine straight up, keeping it from bending, and make it grow vertically, so far as you can. Leave fruit-bearing shoots and reserve stubsat proper intervals. Train the vines as high as possible and tie them firmly, but without choking them… In an old vineyard sow clover if the soil is lean (do not sow anything that will form a head), and around the roots apply manure, straw, grape dregs, or anything of the sort, to make it stronger.  When the vine begins to form leaves, thin them. Tie up the young vines at frequent intervals to keep the stems from breaking, and when they begin to climb the props tie the tender branches loosely, and turn them so that they will grow vertically. When the grapes begin to turn, tie up the vines, strip the leaves so as to expose the grapes…”