Brief History of Wine

history_of_wine

The beginning
According to Cornell University archeologists, grape cultivation and wine making date to sometime between 6,000 and 4,000 BC in Mesopotamia and the coastal areas of the Caspian Sea. At that time only aristocrats, royalty, and members of clergy enjoyed wine while peasants and commoners drank ale, mead and beer.

The Old Testament
The oldest reference on wine seems to belong to the Old Testament, when “Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank the wine and became drunk (Genesis 9-21)”. This reference marks the presence of wine in the Judea-Christian tradition from the earliest times. In the Bible the wine is mentioned over 200 times, some of the quotes, also calls for moderation in consumption …, which is a sign of wine great importance in all cultures of the region: Babylon, Egypt , Sumer, etc. Later, the wine adopts a key role in the Christian ritual.

Greece, Rome and wine
In the Classical world wine has always had a special place. In Greek and Roman the gods of wine were very revered of its intoxicating and aphrodisiac. Homer described some of the wines grown in northern Greece with Muscat grapes as “sweet as honey”.  Feasts and orgies were organized in honor of the gods, in which abundant wine, delicacies and sexual pleasures took place. The wine was associated in the classical world with love and carnal enjoyment, but also tranquility, relaxation and relief.

In all civilizations in which the wine has been present, the wine became an integral part of the culture and values of the population. Likewise, wine has also been a form of cultural expansion: the Romans planted vineyards throughout Mediterranean Europe. There is a legend of how Dionysus conquered Asia with an army of musicians and dancers who danced and offered wine … this can be interpreted as a mythological allegory of cultural power of wine.

According with Greek historian Thucydides (fifth century B.C), the inhabitants of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate olive and vine. Wine making is as old as civilization itself.

Egypt and wine
In ancient Egypt, wine jars found with ‘labels’, which contains the name of the producer, the vineyard and the registered year. This fact tells us that concern for the quality of wine goes a long way …

The Romans also showed great interest in wine quality and to define what were the best vineyards. We see here the origin of association weather and soil, as known for the quality standards for wine in the Old World

The Egyptians recorded the harvest of grapes on the walls of their tombs; bottles of wine were even buried with pharaohs in order that they might entertain guests in the afterlife. Wine was also considered a drink of the elite in ancient Greece, and it was a centerpiece of the famous symposia, immortalized by Plato and the poets of the period. But it was during the Roman era that wine became popular throughout society.

  • The oldest known evidence of wine production in Europe is dated to 4500 BC and comes from archaeological sites in Greece.
  • Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest production of wine, made by fermenting grapes, took place in sites in Georgia and Iran, from as early as 6000 BC.
  • These locations are all within the natural area of the European grapevine Vitis vinifera.

Christian influence
After the fall of the Roman Empire, in Europe the development of viticulture and oenology was initiated by the Christian monks, who put a lot of effort to improve all aspects of production of wine, drawing on the legacy of Roman vineyards .

It is no coincidence that regions with more wine tradition in Europe, are also often those with the highest concentration of monasteries and religious enclaves. We can see even today as many wineries (some very recent) resort to Latin names for their wines, or rehabilitate or used commercially old buildings, monasteries and abbeys, located between its vineyards.

Expansion in the Middle Ages.
France, Italy and Spain have been the largest producers and exporters of wine since the Middle Ages. For the medieval man, wine was a product of habitual consumption and a necessity, not only as caloric intake,  but utilizing its alcohol properties as preservative, and also to eliminate some bacterias.

By the XVIII century, the wealth of the bourgeoisie in Europe increased considerably  and  so the demand for higher quality wines. Bordeaux was the first region shown concerns for the quality of the vineyards, which resulted in a system to categorize wines, known as the “Grand Cru”  (Great Growth)  classification. This  Bordeaux classification was established in 1855, and it has  seen very little changes since them. Bordeaux became the preeminent producer of finest wines in the wold.

The Phylloxera root plague
In 1880, the vineyards of France were on the verge of destruction, due the Phylloxera root louse. This grapevine plague  spreaded throughout France, and in the Charante Region (Cognac) in particular. With the economy at risk, French scientist Pierre Viala was nominated to find a cure for this plague. Viala’s search lead him to Denison, Texas and scientist Thomas Volney Munson. Viala and Munson together studied the native grapes of Texas. Because the soils of the Charante Region in France and Denison were very similar, and Munson also knew that the Texas rootstocks were resistant to phylloxera. Munson suggested that the only way to save the French vineyards was to graft the Texas rootstocks with the French vines. Viala agreed and thousands of bundles of Texas rootstocks were shipped to France to be grafted with the French vineyards. The grafting technique continues to this day.

The New World and wine
The first successful wine-making in the New World took place in the 19th century. Surprisingly, Ohio was the first region in America to successfully cultivate grapes for wine, but soon overtake by wine production in California. About this time grape cultivation began also in Australia, and New Zealand.

Today, the wines of the New World (America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) have improved their quality, conquered international markets and compete with the most reputable European wines. Some of these areas have been exploited considerably around the wine tourism, with routes that invite the traveler.