Must Love Wine–Roman ‘Sagra dell’Uva’ is About to Begin

Marino's Main Fountain which Spouts Wine instead of Water
Marino’s Main Fountain Spouts Wine instead of Water for the Sagra dell’Uva Festival

Marino, just 21 kilometers south of Rome, is a little hill-top medieval castle town with a big celebration of the grape every year on the first Sunday of October. Set in the famous wine-making Alban Hills, the Sagra dell’Uva is a day of merrymaking, feasting and drinking a whole lot of local wine. This same region of Castelli Romani, once a summer resort full of luxurious villas for the Roman nobility, was also famous for ensuring the early Roman Emperors had good wine to drink.


During the Sagra, clusters of grapes dangle over statues, terraces, doorways and balconies. 8063894560_f317b372ca_bFood stalls line the streets offering plates of delicious mussels, clams, olives, nuts, fruits, sweets and hot pork sandwiches called ‘porchetta.’ Medieval jousting tournaments, the Palio dei Rioni, stir up the turf while the townspeople, dressed in traditional costumes, hand out grapes and wine to the festival attendees. A colorful display of bursting fireworks tops off the evening as the celebration carries on. It gets rowdy!

Beware! Stay too late and this is what happens...they come for you!
Beware! Stay too long and this is what happens…they come for you!

It all began after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 when admiral Marcantonio Colonna returned to his hometown of Marino following his famous victory over the Turks. More that 250 sailors were sent to the battle but came home safely.

Leone Ciprelli, a local poet, started the very first Sagra dell’Uva in 1925 to keep the victory of Lepanto alive. It has grown in popularity through the years to the degree that over 100,000 people now attend the event on Sunday. The Sagre dell’Uva is celebrated every October to give thanks for their safe return.

The big draw that everyone crowds in for is the running of the wine through the spouts of the main fountain. This happens as nightfall begins, usually around 5 pm, when the little village is transformed into a mass of excited onlookers. After the blessing, cups, pitchers and jars of all sizes are used to capture the 5,000 liters of the sweet golden nectar of locally grown wine.


Frascati is the most popular of the wines grown here, produced mainly from Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, described as a fruity, acidic wine, with honey undertones. Several reds are also made and are available at the festival, including Merlot del Lazio and the Castelli Romani Red, Collezione Marchesini, described as a soft, fruity and easy-drinking wine made from the local Ciliegolo grapes. Just about every rural family has a vineyard that produces wine for its own use and often sold in litres at a bargain price.

This annual event costs the city approximately a quarter of a million dollars to put on but the benefits are worth it. Not only does Marino continue to promote the local wines of the Golden Goblet Wine Cooperative, which provides all of the wine, but they also keep their tradition alive which attracts tourists and puts Marino on the map.

One Miraculous Year 

On a previous year at the Sagra dell’Uva, a shout of “miracolo” was heard coming from a balcony overlooking the square of the main fountain. Evidently a woman had just filled her bucket at the kitchen sink to mop her floors and noticed that the water had been turned into wine. The neighbors as well had wine coming out of their faucets and it was thought to be a miracle. But the mayor announced that the ‘miracle’ was in fact a technical error in the plumbing. The pipes had been switched to the homes instead of to the fountain. And all of those who were crowded expectantly around the fountain in the square were greatly disappointed.

Ancient Rome’s Lasting Contribution to Wine Making

“It has passed into a proverb, that wisdom is overshadowed by wine.
Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus), Roman officer and encyclopedist, (23-79)


The properties of wine making are very possibly Rome’s most lasting contribution to the world today. What began as wild grapes that grew throughout the mediterranean region, cultivated by the Greeks and Etruscans, and embellished to an art by the Romans, is now considered an essential ingredient to socializing and fine dining.

The rise of the ancient Roman Empire saw an increase in technology and awareness of wine making which spread to all parts of the empire. Because the Romans held the attitude that wine was a daily necessity of life, wine became democratic and available to everyone regardless of class. By the 2nd century BC, wine and grape production soared. Large slave-run vineyards dotted the peninsula along the coastline. As the Roman empire expanded, wine and viticulture was introduced throughout the regions to ensure steady supplies for Roman soldiers and colonists. Conquered territories, such as France, Germany, Portugal and Spain traded with the Romans for wine even before the Romans annexed the regions and cultivated vineyards.

Unlike the Greeks and Etruscans, the Romans took a deep interest in the art of wine making. They cared about the quality of the wine, its taste, its aroma and its flavor. Some of the earlier wines, which tended to be harsh, could be ignited due to the high amount of alcohol, so it was necessary to dilute wine with seawater. Flavor changing properties were added to wine including honey, herbs and/or spices of all sorts, and chalk added to reduce acidity.

Roman wine storage
Roman wine storage

Roman historians Pliny the Elder and Horace claimed the best wine to be Falerno, produced in northern Campania, the region of Naples. Martial, however, prefered the wine of Albano, from the same area south of Rome that today produces the popular wines of the castelli romani. And finally Horace, who was fond of Caleno (a wealthy persons wine), Massico, and Cecubo, produced near Fondi, in the south of Lazio, which he considers “generous and strong.”

Almost all of these wines were preferably stored for generations in beautiful amphorae, slender and elegant, with elongated handles and necks. Horace gives specific instructions on how to taste aged wine, stating the best to be the Albano which was aged for nine years. You sip the wine, he says, together with your lover.

So how has all of this Roman viticulture carried down through the centuries to our wine making practices today?

To begin with, they developed the attitude that wine should be available to everyone (populi) and established its importance in everyday life. As a result, vineyards were planted and cultivated throughout the Roman Empire whose borders encompassed most of Europe. As far as wine production, they introduced props and trellises in wine growing, improved the presses used for extracting juice, and classified which groups of grapes grew best in which climates. They sought to develop a better taste with aged wine, and they were the first to store it in wooden barrels. It is likely that they were the first to store wine in glass jars with corks.

Many thanks to monks in European monasteries who, after the fall of Rome, kept the art of wine-making alive and well.

Today, wine consumption is still enjoyed by many and brings a strong connection within the realm of socializing. It is continually being improved upon and perfected by wine-makers all over the world. And to this day, as Horace instructed, wine is still to be ‘sipped together with one’s lover.’

"Populi"- for the people
“Populi”- for the people