Wine Meets Archaeology At Pompeii

By Robert Richards


Many people who are passionate about wine have a special curiosity and want to learn more about it. Often, they approach wine as a Jack-Of-All-Trades and dabble in a bit of everything to get as wide a footprint of knowledge as possible. But once they’ve dabbled and established their base knowledge what is the next step?

The deep dive. Specialization. Pick something about wine that inspires you and makes you curious then pursue it. If it intersects with another area of personal interest, all the better.

For historians like me the wellspring of inspiration and curiosity is the Human story; our story – past, present, and future – culture, tribe, creed, and empire – humanity in its every triumph, tragedy, and grace. Wine is an ancient narrative that continues to unfold even today. It looms large as both an economic and cultural component that’s brought friends, family, and communities together in common purpose and worship for thousands of years so to find intersections between wine and history one doesn’t have to look very far.

To learn any type of history, reading is almost always the best way to get started. There are plenty of wine history articles online and Patrick E. McGovern has written some fantastic books about wine origins and wine in the ancient world. They will give you the next level knowledge you need to prepare for the next step; getting into the field for some in situ experience.

So, what exactly is “getting into the field for some in-situ experience” and how do you go about it? Simply put, you travel to where ancient wine was made and investigate for yourself. Take a tour with a knowledgeable guide as part of a vacation or, if you really want to get your winegeek on, take part in an accredited archaeological study like the Pompeii Food And Drink Project.

The Pompeii Food and Drink Project (PF&DP) offers an unequaled opportunity to explore the ancient Roman city of Pompeii as a research participant in an ongoing noninvasive (that means no digging) study with a staff of historians, archaeologists, architects, and classicists. The historical context of Pompeii remains unique and permits an analysis of daily Roman life of great scope, complexity, and variety. In particular, there are many questions to be answered about food and drink production, storage, preparation and consumption. The research goal is to analyze any patterns of daily life by a noninvasive study of the structures that are associated with the storage, distribution, preparation, serving, and consumption of food and drink, including wine.

No special skills are needed for a volunteer team member. PF&DP staff will teach you what you need to do. During the first few days, the Principal Researchers provide a series of lectures on the history and geography of Pompeii and lead a guided walk within the city. Short on-site lectures are given by staff members each morning in the scavi. For example, a talk about wine takes place in the vineyard, and a discussion about the baths of Pompeii is held in the Stabian Baths.

Pompeii Food & Drink Project Drawing Team

Each week the entire group is taken to the Antiquarium di Boscoreale, a small near-by museum with fascinating, well-displayed exhibits of objects from the daily life in Pompeii. While there you get to explore an excavated farmhouse where wine was produced.

Joining the PF&DP for a week or two over the summer season is easy but not free. The cost per person per week is about US$1,600 but that includes six nights hotel accommodation, three daily meals, equipment, training, and all special activities like visiting Boscoreale. All you have to do is get yourself there and the rest is covered. To get all the details visit the PF&DP website.