History of Wine - Wine History and Origins

Wine is one of the creations of human ingenuity that closely followed us from the earliest moments of our history. According to the evidence that archeologist found all around the world, wine first appeared in earliest civilizations known to man, and during the ages it became intertwined with the history of agriculture, cuisine, civilization and humanity itself. After wine became commonplace in European ancient civilizations it suffered a big blow during the middle ages when only Christian monasteries produced it for the various rituals that wine was a part of. As the centuries went on, so did the technology associated with the wine production. Wine finally started expanding from the controlled environment of the Christian church and slowly being accepted into general population. With the rise of the privately owned grape plantations in the Italy and France, so did the popularity of the wine rose, expanding to the all four corners of the earth during the 19th and 20th century. During all its lifetime, wine managed to became integral part of humanity, becoming infused in many religions, slowly expanding from the Middle Eastern lands to the southern Europe and finallygoing worldwide in last 2 centuries.

Modern Wine

Wine Origins and Egypt

The current theory is that wine was discovered accidentally by our ancestors. Grapes (and several other fruits, such as berries, apples, cherries and rice) can be successfully transformed to an alcoholic beverage through the process of fermentation. Grapes represent excellent starting point for wine because its internal structure contains all necessary ingredients (acids, sugars, tannins, minerals, and vitamins) for a successful fermentation.

To discover origins of wine, first we must look at the evidence of its birth that survived in history. Some of the earliest mentioning's of wine come from numerous Bible references that traced its beginnings to distant 5th millennia BC Egypt. As the archeologist started exploring areas that were in use in those times, they slowly came to the discovery that Egypt was not birthplace of wine. According to their findings, Egyptians thought that their local winemaking was not of high quality and they imported the majority of the wine dedicated for their rulers and religious members from the ancient Armenia. Archeological finds related to wine in Armenia and Georgia proved to be even more ancient that the ones in Egypt. It is widely speculated that Armenian brewers started making wine as far as 6000 BC, and some evidence give possibility that region of Colchis(modern day Georgia) had wine production at incredible old 8000 BC. During those ancient times, another independent source of winemaking was created in Northern China. According to the findings, Chinese brewers created first batches of grape wine, rice wine, and mead as far as 4600 to 5000 years ago.

In third and second millennia BC, Egyptian brewers reached the point when they succeeded in making quality red wine by using newly formed grape cultivation fields in the delta of Nile (recent finds at Pharaoh Tutankhamun's tombalso gave evidence of white wine). Many scenes depicting winemaking can today be seen on the tomb wall pictures that have remained untouched during the ages. It is also believed that wine held great superstition around it, mostly because its resemblance to blood and its uses spiritual and religious ceremonies. Because of this fact, common Egyptian people preferred the use of beer.

Wine in Greece and Rome

Around 1600 BC, increased trade between Egypt and Ancient Greece brought wine to the Europe. Although there are several findings of wine in Balkan tribes from 4th millennia BC, Greece represented one the most important staging points in the wine's popularization in Europe. Stories about wine during those times were well preserved in numerous poems and other written works by many Greek authors who described detail account of their wine use, and the celebrations of their wine god Dionysus. One of the most notable examples of wine descriptions comes from the Homer's Odyssey and Iliad. Fertile lands and good conditions gave ability to Greece to make wine of such quality that even Egypt started to import it in mass quantities. In addition to trade, Greek physicians took notice of its healing abilities and started prescribing it as a remedy. The fact that prevented the widespread use of wine in Greece was similar with Egypt - common people still associated wine as a privilege of the wealthy upper class.

Roman Empire however took wine from the Greeks and managed to promote it to widespread use across all of their colonies. From about 1000BC, Romans started to categorize grape varieties and colors, observing best possible techniques for wine production, identifying diseases and soil types. They became very skilled in increasing grape yields trough irrigation and fertilization techniques, and generally advanced technology for its creation and storing. Their oldest surviving wine glass bottle is dated to 325 AD, and one of their greatest advancements were use of wooden cooperage forstoring finished wine (Greeks and Egyptians used skins or clay jars).

Popularity of wine in Ancient RomanEmpire was at its height during its expansion across the entire Europe, when vineyards from Italy supplied not only wealthy elite but also common citizens. As the time went Roman provinces begun producing their own wine, threatening to compete with the best Italian wines. As a result of their expansion, almost all major wine producing regions in modern Europe were established by the Romans.

Wine Stone Bottle

During that time, wine was so commonly used, that some Italian cities had wine shops and bars on every street. In contrast to modern wines, Romans did not use pure white and red wines. They had belief that "dry" wines were bad, and they sweetened their drinks with many flavors- fermented fish sauce, garlic, onion and more.

Wine in Medieval Europe, New World and the Phylloxera blight

As the influence of Roman Empire spread across the Europe, so did the wine. Barrels of this new alcoholic beverage that were exported to Spain, Germany, England and France (then called Gaul) spiked interest in the local population, and they all soon started developing their own wine industry. As their quality slowly became better and better, Roman rulers even forbidden their import to preserve the purity and popularity of Italian wine. After the fall of Roman Empire, Europe fell into dark ages. Constant warfare, starvation and famines greatly reduced production of wine across the continent. The only constant producer of wine was Catholic Church (most notably orders Benedictine, Cistercians, Carthusians, Carmelites, and the Templars), which preserved wine as one of the main ingredients for their religious ceremonies. All classes of people in regions of Southern Europe enjoyed the wine as an important part of daily diet, mostly because clean water was unavailable and difficult to procure. Northern countries imported wine from the south, and after increased hostilities with French in 12th century, England started importing mass quantities of wine from Portugal and Germany.

Advancements in naval navigation enabled the beginnings of the famous "Age of Sail" period, when many famous explorers spread across the four corners of the world discovering new lands. Although many vineyards were established on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastsof North America, and in the Mississippi River basin valleys, they all quickly perished. The only thriving place for gripe production in United States remained in California, but soon worldwide production of wine would be hit with a devastating blow. The reason for this disaster was species of root louse called phylloxeravastatrix which lived only in the area of Mississippi River Valley. The critical moment for the expansion of Phylloxera happened in 1863, when several infected grapes where transported from the America to Botanical Gardens in England. As European grapes did not have genetic immunity to the newfound plight, Phylloxera started spreading like wild fire. It quickly attacked the roots of the grape trees, leaving the plant to rot, inviting other pests to spread itself over surrounding area. In the following 20 years, disease spread across entire Europe, affecting almost every vineyard. Finding solution to this problem was not an easy one. After several unsuccessful tactics (flooding, and injecting the soil with carbon bisulfide), American horticulturist Thomas Munson came to idea to graft American vinifera vinesonto riparia hybrid rootstocks. This tactic proved to be successful, and after long and tedious work, every wine of grape in Europe received this treatment. This blight had an enormous impact on the worldwide production of wine. Shortages and lowered quality created many fluctuations on the markets, eventually leading to the adoption of the "Appellation Controlée" which controlled and authenticated the quality and origin of French wines.

Wine in 20th century

Winemakers of early 20th century will mostly remember that period because of great expansion of vineyards across entire world and the brief period of American Prohibition which had great impact for vineyard owners and alcohol manufacturers in the United States. Although this temporary setback proved fatal for majority of US alcohol production, remainder of 20th century brought much advancement in the wine industry. The most important one was refrigeration, which finally enabled winemakers to control the process of fermentation even in the environments that are not best suited for wine production. Another big technical advancement was without the doubt is the introduction of automated harvest machines, which became much larger and better during the decades. In the last few decades, technology of winemaking has advanced so much that brewers finally have control of every aspect of their work - from harvesting, crushing, fermentation and bottling. However, some claim that these beneficial advancements have also given ability to winemakers to focus more on producing quantity and not quality wines.

One thing is certain. Advanced technologies, old traditions and international trade have created environment in which wine production and consumption continues to rise in popularity with each passing year.

Modern Wine Barrels