The History of
Wine Production in Malta
Martin Morana April
archaeological dig in Mġarr ix-Xini, Gozo
has recently shed light on the Mediterranean
island's wine producing past. The
excavations have reinforced the fact that
wine was an important part of the Maltese
economy since Classical times. Troughs that
are believed to have been used for grape
pressing were discovered. The presses
embedded in the rock may date to several
centuries B.C. and would have been connected
to a series of channels that would have
allowed the juice collected from the grapes
to flow down.
Although wine production in Malta dates back
to over two thousand years the evidence for
the production of wines is scanty. It is
known from documents that vines were grown
in Malta during the mediaeval period, but a
lot of wine was imported too. These wines were
then mostly imported from Sicily. This was mainly
because most of the local grapes harvested were
eaten and not pressed into wine. In Malta as in many
Mediterranean countries wine was drunk mixed with
Indeed the consumption of wine was quite
considerable during the centuries. This was mainly
so because not only was wine an exciting proposal
for the taste buds but it was believed that it had
nutritional value. Many physicians also recommended
it to their patients as they believed that wine
could be beneficial to health due to its antiseptic
nature. No wonder people toasted to each others
health when drinking wine. In Maltese there is a
saying that states that ‘L-inbid ħalib ix-xjuħ’,
meaning that wine is the milk for older folk.
In late mediaeval times imported wine was being
taxed as noted in documents from that period. In the
15th century Maltese farmers were complaining that
imported wines were ruining their business, a
business that contributed to a smaller or larger
extent to some one thousand persons.
During the time when the Order of the Knights of St.
John ruled the Maltese islands wine was being
consumed in great quantities both by the Maltese as
well as by the Knights of the Order. Taverns were
opening not only in Valletta but also in the towns
and villages. More wine was being imported from
Spain, Naples, Florence, Sicily and Burgundy to suit
the palate of the European aristocratic Knights. It
is known that only the German Knights drank wine
without diluting it in water. Normally wine was
diluted in the ratio of one is to three with water.
During the British period one could count over 120
varieties of grapes before the viticulture was
attacked by phylloxera in 1920 which wiped out many
vines. Wine found a ready market with the presence
of the British sailors. These however, soon turned
to spirits like whisky, rum and brandy.
The local grape variety, the Ġellewża (red)
and Girgentina (white), as well as
international varieties including Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (or Shiraz), Cabernet
Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato were
being harvested locally since the 1970s and 80s.
In the 20th century some local wine merchants
emerged to import wines in greater quantities. Two
of these companies eventually started to produce
their own wine. Some of the wine they produce is
harvested as grapes from well established local
farming communities. Other wines are produced from
grapes that are cultivated in nearby Italy and then
imported to Malta where these are quickly pressed
Since Malta’s entry into the European Union the wine
producers are bound by strict rules of conduct that
compel them to clearly state which wines are locally
grown and which are not. Indeed a DOC Document of
Origin of Country must be issued with those wines
that claim their entire origin to the Maltese
islands. The certification process spans the entire
spectrum of production including controls on the
grapes being produced by registered farmers, the
wine making process and the final product. The wine
is further subject to laboratory analysis and an
organoleptic analysis by a professional tasting
panel. The official tasting panel appointed is that
of the Enoteca di Siena which, since its founding in
1933, has devoted itself to promoting quality wines.
Calscione Michael, Wine for Wine
Lovers, The Sunday Times, 11th September 1994.
Debono John, The Wine Trade of Malta in the 18th
Century, Melita Historica, Vol. IX no 1. 1984.
Gambin Kenneth & Buttigieg Noel, Storja tal-Kultura
ta’ l-Ikel F’Malta, Pubblikazzjoni Indipendenza,
Wickman Victor, the Wine Ships of Malta and Gozo,
Treasures of Malta, Vol IX No 3.
Malta Vineyards in :
‘Dig Shed s Light on Malta’s wine Production’.