The History of Wine

Archaeological sites of the Neolithic, Copper and early Bronze Ages in which vestiges of wine and olive growing have been found.

The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production yet found has been at sites in Georgia (6 000 BC), Iran (5 000 BC), Greece (4 500 BC) and Armenia (4 100 BC), where the oldest winery to date was uncovered.

The altered consciousness produced by wine has been considered religious since its origin. The Greeks worshiped Dionysus or Bacchus and the Romans carried on his cult. Consumption of ritual wine was part of Jewish practice since Biblical times and, as part of the eucharist commemorating Jesus's Last Supper, became even more essential to the Christian Church.

Although Islam nominally forbade the production or consumption of wine, during its Golden Age, alchemists such as Geber pioneered wine's distillation for medicinal and industrial purposes such as the production of perfume. The Turkic Uyghurs were even responsible for reintroducing viticulture to China from the Tang dynasty onwards.

Wine production and consumption increased, burgeoning from the 15th century onwards as part of European expansion. Despite the devastating 1887 phylloxera louse infestation, modern science and technology adapted and industrial wine production and wine consumption now occur throughout the world.

The origins of wine predate written records, and modern archaeology is still uncertain about the details of the first cultivation of wild grapevines. It has been hypothesized that early humans climbed trees to pick berries, liked their sugary flavour, and then begun collecting them. After a few days with fermentation setting in, juice at the bottom of any container would begin producing low-alcohol wine. According to this theory, things changed around 10.000-8.000 BC with the transition from a nomadic to a sedentism style of living, which led to agriculture and wine domestication.

Wild grapes grow in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the northern Levant, coastal and southeastern Turkey, and northern Iran. The fermenting of strains of this wild Vitis vinifera subsp. sylvestris (the ancestor of the modern wine grape, Vinis vinifera) would have become easier following the development of pottery during the later Neolithic, c. 11,000 BC. However, the earliest evidence so far discovered dates from millennia afterwards.

The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production yet found has been at sites in Georgia (c. 6000 BC), Iran (c. 5000 BC), Greece (c. 4500 BC) and Armenia (c. 4100 BC). The Iranian jars contained a form of retsina, using turpentine pine resin to more effectively seal and preserve the wine. Production spread to other sites in Greater Iran and Grecian Macedonia by c. 4500 BC. The Greek site is notable for the recovery at the site of the remnants of crushed grapes.

Oldest Winery Discovered

RIGHT: Georgian Kvevri ancient wine vessel.

The oldest-known winery was discovered in the "Areni-1" cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia. Dated to c. 4100 BC, the site contained a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups. Archaeologists also found Vinis vinifera seeds and vines.

BELOW: Entrance to the Areni-1 cave in southern Armenia near the town of Areni. The cave is the location of the world's oldest known winery and where the world's oldest known shoe has been found.

The seeds were from Vitis vinifera vinifera, a grape still used to make wine. The cave remains date to about 4000 BC - 900 years before the earliest comparable wine remains, found in Egyptian tombs.

ABOVE: Mosaic depicting grapes with Armenian inscription in Jerusalem.

Earliest Known Winery Found in Armenian Cave: James Owen from National Geographic News quotes archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles: "The site gives us a new insight into the earliest phase of horticulture—how they grew the first orchards and vineyards". "It's the oldest proven case of documented and dedicated wine production, stretching back the horizons of this important development by thousands of years," said Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of the University of California Los Angeles's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

ABOVE: Detail of a relief of the eastern stairs of the Apadana, Persepolis, Iran depicting soldiers bringing their very famous wine to the Persian king.

Wine found in Armenia is considered to be at least 6100 years old. The fame of Persian wine has been well known in Ancient times. The carvings on Apadana Palace in Persepolis, Iran demonstrate soldiers from every corner of Persian Achaemenid Empire bringing gifts to the Persian King during Nowrooz .

Domesticated grapes were abundant in the Near East from the beginning of the early Bronze Age, starting in 3200 BC. There is also increasingly abundant evidence for winemaking in Sumer and Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC.

Legends of discovery

LEFT: Wine (mey) has been a theme of Persian poetry for millennia.

There are many etiological myths told about the first cultivation of the grapevine and fermentation of wine. The Biblical Book of Genesis first mentions the production of wine following the Great Flood, when Noah drunkenly exposes himself to his sons.

Greek mythology placed the childhood of Dionysus and his discovery of viticulture at the fictional and variably located Mount Nysa but had him teach the practice to the peoples of central Anatolia. Because of this, he was rewarded to become a god of wine.

In Ancient Iran, Persia, legend, King Jamshid banished a lady of his harem, causing her to become despondent and contemplate suicide. Going to the king's warehouse, the woman sought out a jar marked "poison" containing the remnants of the grapes that had spoiled and were now deemed undrinkable. After drinking the fermented wine, she found her spirits lifted. She took her discovery to the king, who became so enamored of his new drink that he not only accepted the woman back but also decreed that all grapes grown in Persepolis would be devoted to winemaking.

THE MODERN ERA

Spread and development in the Americas

See also: New World wine

European grape varieties were first brought to what is now Mexico by the first Spanish conquistadors to provide the necessities of the Catholic Holy Eucharist. Planted at Spanish missions, one variety came to be known as the Mission grape and is still planted today in small amounts. Succeeding waves of immigrants imported French, Italian and German grapes, although wine from those native to the Americas (whose flavors can be distinctly different) is also produced. Mexico became the most important wine producer starting in the 16th century, to the extent that its output began to affect Spanish commercial production. In this competitive climate, the Spanish king sent an executive order to halt Mexico's production of wines and the planting of vineyards.

During the devastating phylloxera blight in late 19th-century Europe, it was found that Native American vines were immune to the pest. French-American hybrid grapes were developed and saw some use in Europe, but more important was the practice of grafting European grapevines to American rootstocks to protect vineyards from the insect. The practice continues to this day wherever phylloxera is present.

Today, wine in the Americas is often associated with Argentina, California and Chile, all of which produce a wide variety of wines, from inexpensive jug wines to high-quality varietals and proprietary blends. Most of the wine production in the Americas is based on Old World grape varieties, and wine-growing regions there have often "adopted" grapes that have become particularly closely identified with them. California's Zinfandel (from Croatia and Southern Italy), Argentina's Malbec, and Chile's Carmenère (both from France) are well-known examples.

Until the latter half of the 20th century, American wine was generally viewed as inferior to that of Europe. However, with the surprisingly favorable American showing at the Paris Wine tasting of 1976, New World wine began to garner respect in the land of wine's origins.

Developments in Europe

In the late 19th century, the phylloxera louse brought widespread destruction to grapevines, wine production, and those whose livelihoods depended on them. Far-reaching repercussions included the loss of many indigenous varieties. Lessons learned from the infestation led to the positive transformation of Europe's wine industry. Bad vineyards were uprooted and their land turned to better uses.

Some of France's best butter and cheese, for example, is now made from cows that graze on charentais soil, which was previously covered with vines. Cuvées were also standardized, important in creating certain wines as they are known today; Champagne and Bordeaux finally achieved the grape mixes that now define them.

In the Balkans, where phylloxera had had little impact, the local varieties survived. However, the uneven transition from Ottoman occupation has meant only gradual transformation in many vineyards. It is only in recent times that local varieties have gained recognition beyond "mass-market" wines like retsina.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

In the context of wine, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries without a wine tradition are considered New World producers. Wine production began in the Cape Province of what is now South Africa in the mid 1600s as a business for supplying ships. Australia's First Fleet (1788) brought cuttings of vines from South Africa, although initial plantings failed and the first successful vineyards were established in the early 19th century.

Until quite late in the 20th century, the product of these countries was not well known outside their small export markets. For example, Australia exported mainly to the United Kingdom; New Zealand retained most of its wine for domestic consumption; and South Africa was often isolated from the world market because of apartheid. However, with the increase in mechanization and scientific advances in winemaking, these countries became known for high-quality wine. A notable exception to the foregoing is that the Cape Province was the largest exporter of wine to Europe in the 18th century.

(Source: Wikipedia)

END