Vine is one of the few plants that it's cultivation is smelted even to the prehistoric times. From Homer's age vine cultivation and wine-making were very developed in the whole of the then known world.
In graves of the era of the Pharaoh's during the 6th millennium B.C. sperms and leaves of vines were found. In the Old Testament it is mentioned that Noah got drunk reaching a pathetic situation after drinking wine made from a vineyard that he himself had planted right after the cataclysm. In the Old Testament the famous vineyards of Canaan are also mentioned.
According to Greek mythology vine has been brought from Asia by Dionysus (also called Bacchus) and his son Inopionas and they taught the Greeks how to grow vines and make wine. Therefore Dionysus was worshiped as the god of wine all over Greece.
According to many phytogeographers, motherland of the vine should be the area surrounding the Mt Caucasus and the area of Pontus that is South of the Caspian sea. From Asia it was imported to Europe during the prehistoric times. There are others however that propose that vine is an indigenous plant in Europe and that it was in existence even from the Pleistocene era.
The cultivation of wine, from the ancient years and it's great geographic span resulted to the creation of many varieties. They are difficult to distinguish since the same variety may have different variations from place to place since many of it's characters are interdepended to the climate of each location.
Samian wine in ancient times
In ancient times Samos was not famous for it's wines. Stravon and Apoulios mention that Samos was behind in wine-making. Plenius, Athineos and Aeolianus when they mention many famous ancient wines make no note of Samian ones and Stravon goes even further mentioning that other neighboring islands like Chios, Lesbos and Kos were filled with vines while the Samian production was rather poor. Aeschylus names Samos "filled with olive trees" and Antisthenes praises Samian olive oil but they both mention nothing about wine. During ancient times famous were the wines from Lesbos, Chios, Thasos, Ikaria, Kos, Rhodes, Naxos and others.
Tyrant Polycrates in order to reform agriculture and industry in parallel has brought to Samos improved races of sheep from Melitos, goats from Skyros and pigs from Sicily with obvious purpose to exploit the soil of the olive groves, the bush land, the wild chestnuts and acorns that were plenty in Samos ever until the end of the 19th century. With the wool they would supply the industry of their time producing textiles. As they used to say these wool textiles "were softer than sleep itself, worthy of gods to lay on them". So the Samians of that era seem not to be very interested in growing vines that were plenty in the near by islands and exploited their land in different ways possibly thus more productively. However there should have been some wine production since Aethlios praises Samian wine and Isichios mentions "Samian vine" as well.
10th century A.D. - First records about Samian wine
The first one ever to mention Samian wine (apart for ancient times) is a monk named Theodorus (1143-1180), who in a poem against abbots writes "they drink sweet wine from Crete and from Samos" but does not mention if the wine was from Muscat vines, since sweet wine can be made from other vine varieties as well.
Samian Muscat wine is mentioned for the first time by Cesario Daponte (1714-1784) in a religious poem and goes: "wine from Scopelos, comandaria from Cyprus, Muscat from Samos, Rosolio from Corfu, excellent things". Cesario Daponte was a scholarch from Scopelos and has visited Samos in 1754.
Appearance of Muscat vine in Samos (16th century)
As mentioned by a variety of writers, the variety Samos Muscat is originated from Asia Minor and is the result of a mutation. It has been brought to Samos in the end of the 16th century, where due to climate has developed in full its characteristics. It's the same variety as Muscat de Frontignan that is cultivated in meridian France and it is beyond doubt that the French when Phyloxera has stroke their vineyards, took transplants from Samos and planted them in France creating in this way this variety (Muscat de Frontignan).
Phylloxera in Europe and the spreading of Samian wine
Samian wine began to be widely known in the rest of Europe and from there to the world when phylloxera destroyed many European vineyards.
Mainly the French and Italians in order to secure wine and other vine products (like raisins) turned to the eastern parts of Europe that were not affected, one of these parts was Samos.
The great demand for these products brought a significant price increase and for that reason Samos was very soon a huge vineyard. Even the most rough terrain was leveled and planted with vines. The plottage was 4.7000.000 sq. meters at that time, as sources of the time mention.
That is when French enologists came and brought the most modern equipment, they established wineries and produced sweet wines by grapes that they bought from the winegrowers. The wine was then shipped to France and they are the first ones to practice the method of stopping the fermentation of must by adding alcohol and these wines are the so called even today "stopped wines" (or mistelia). The same method is followed even today by the "Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos" to produce some types of wine.
So Samian wine became worldwide known and received many medals in exhibitions like London in 1862 and Paris in 1867 and many others that decorate today the trophy-room of the Union.
When the phylloxera-destroyed the vineyards of Europe they were re-planted with American vines that soon began to produce. The demand for wine and raisins began to drop, the prices fell dramatically and the production remained unsold. That's when in Greece (Samos back then was a Hegemony) the so-called Raisin Problem was created and for many years it used to dominate the politic life of the country. In Samos this problem was not created at all since the Samian vineyards were already destroyed to a large extend by phylloxera in 1892.
Phylloxera in Samos and the spreading of tobacco cultivation
The Hegemony supervisor of Agriculture and Forestry, Aristotle Mantafunis, who had studied agriculturism in Montpelier/France, had created three seedbed of American transplant vines. He urged those who were planting new vines to use them, because phylloxera was at the gates of Samos since it had already stroke Asia Minor with whom Samos had great commercial relations at that time. Afterwards he extended the seedbeds and gave the transplants for free to the winegrowers but since the transplants that he produced were not enough to cover the demand, he also imported from France and gave those transplants for free as well.
Simultaneously, in order to provide the farmers with some income until the vines had grown enough to provide grapes, the cultivation of tobacco was also imported to Samos. Tobacco because of the quality of the production and since it could also put in use the (common in these days) child labor soon became the main cultivation for many villages and occupied great plottage. In that way, after the phylloxera epidemic had passed, Samos had far less vineyards than a few years ago. The vineyards were restricted to the central and north part of the island mainly, that are even today characterized as "Muscat zone" while in the south part olive trees and tobacco were the dominant cultivations. As far variety is concerned, Muscat was the dominant one.
The poverty wave that stroke the island with the phylloxera epidemic was a great one and as it happens in similar cases led to a big immigration wave, mainly among the younger people. Data from that era indicate that until 1910 3083 people immigrated mostly to the United States and 813 young women to become maids or nannies to rich Greek families in Egypt (back then there was a flourishing Greek community) when the total population of Samos, according to the 1902 census was 53051 people, out of which 27061 male and 25990 female.
In due time the economy of the island become to improve, tobacco became the main source of income for many villages and the prices were very satisfactory. Many tobacco industries were established, in Vathi and Karlovasi that provided jobs to a large percentage of the population, commerce again flourished and the previously planted vineyards started to produce once again. Mainly in the northern part of the island, vineries (so-called taverns) appeared that used to buy must from the producers and produce their own wine which they marketed themselves.
Establishment of the "Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos"
As it usually happens under similar conditions the merchants began to exploit the winegrowers and that led to the growth of cooperatism. During the early 30's some efforts were made for team wine making by some winegrowers in Karlovasi, but the effort was unsuccessful, the same happened in 1933 in the village of Vourliotes but this time with much better success.
With the voting by the parliament of a law regarding cooperatism on 25.02.1934 the process of establishment of the "Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos" begun. Based on article 1 of the above mentioned law all winegrowers belong obligatory to the cooperative and must sell their product only to it. 34 cooperatives were established originally and 2 vineries, one in Vathi and one in Karlovasi. In 1936 the first wine-production took place and up to 1939 the buy-out of the merchants stock was completed along with their equipment that was deemed suitable. In that way wine-making and commerce of Muscat wine passed to the hands of the Cooperative Union.
Today "Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos" is comprised by 25 cooperatives with 4000 members/producers and an annual production of 9000 tons of Muscat grapes. It has two fully equipped wineries and permanently employs 130 people. Apart from wine-making it is involved with other activities to the benefit of it's members. It is, probably, the only cooperative in Greece that is financially robust with an annual turnover of many million Euros and great exporting activities, something that is attributed not only to the valuable product that the cooperative is trading but also to firm management and product promotion.
Winegrowers are enjoying good prices for their product, probably the highest in Greece, for example for 1998 harvest the price was 15 grd net per grade for common grapes. With 14 grades as medium, this price corresponds to 210 grd (0,62 Euro) per kilo of grapes. This price can be up to 70% higher for grapes with higher grades or if they fulfill certain specifications.