Celts quaffed English rosé

November 23, 2001

Solid evidence of the Romans' bid to turn beer-swilling Britons into urbane, wine-quaffing citizens has been unearthed by archaeologists.

A vast complex of vineyards in the Nene Valley in Northamptonshire has been identified through excavations and pollen analysis. The scale of cultivation - at least 6km of vines on one site - provides a glimpse of a significant effort to grow wine-making grapes in eastern England.

The research, led by Tony Brown, professor of palaeoenvironmental analysis at Exeter University, is to be published in the journal Antiquity . It settles a debate over whether extensive Roman viticulture reached Britain.

The Celts are thought to have been beer drinkers. It seems that progressive Romanisation eroded this element of their culture as it did so many others.

According to the team: "Wine probably never supplanted beer as the 'national' drink in Roman Britain, but new evidence suggests that viticulture may have had a greater impact than previously thought."

Remains of the vineyards emerged during a five-year investigation by Ian Meadows of Northamptonshire Archaeology.

Eleven hectares of parallel trenches, spaced 5m apart, were found. Each had a characteristic flat bottom, carried root balls every 1.5m and had stake holes along both sides to support the crop.

When pollen from the trenches was analysed, 0.6 per cent was from the vine Vitis vinifera .

Professor Brown and Exeter University colleague Simon Turner compared this with pollen collected at three modern organic vineyards. In unpublished research, they found that more than 0.2 per cent Vitis pollen was sufficient to indicate the presence of a vineyard.

A neighbouring plot likely to have been part of the same complex and a third site nearby combine to give the Nene Valley more than 30,000 vines. Other possible vineyards have been identified in Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.

Professor Brown said the wine probably resembled something between a white and a rosé.

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