Age of Exploration and Wine
The Age of Exploration is an era that began in the early 15th century and lasted through the 17th century. Sometimes this era is also called the Age of Discovery and is characterized as a time when Europeans began exploring the world by sea expeditions in the quest for new trading routes, wealth, and knowledge. The impact of the Age of Exploration would eternally transform the world and change geography into the modern world map as we see it today. It also led to the creation of New World Wine regions: i.e., those nations producing wine after the colonization by European imperial powers.
Age of Exploration and New World Wines
Famous French Historian Fernand Braudel once said, “Wine outside of Europe is followed in the wake of Europeans; Great accomplishments were accomplished in acclimatizing the wine in Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Argentina.”
The full scale of European life wholly transformed over a century, between 1419 and 1519. In 1419, new horizons were opened during the Portuguese journey to Madeira, and new potential was created for the individual appropriation of profit. Later on, the Portuguese and Spanish explorations of the 15th and 16th centuries discovered vast new lands across the Atlantic and new routes to the east for bypassing the traditional Islamic monopoly of the vital luxury trade with India. In 1492, Columbus sailed the Atlantic Ocean from Spain on one of four expeditions. He and his crew stumbled upon the Americas. Consequently, this discovery of the New World began a new era of exploration and colonization of North and South America. In the stir of these passages of discovery, the practice and tradition of viticulture and the consumption of wine were ultimately taken to the furthermost corners of the world7.
From 1500 to 1750, along with the discovery of new lands by the Europeans, a range of technical and social innovations was also witnessed to transform the economy’s structure. In the 14th century, high feudalism in Britain began to vanish due to democratic traditions, while mature capitalism started to appear in the 18th century. Due to these socioeconomic transformations, the unfree feudal peasantry previously tied to the land gained its freedom and engaged in a wage contract with the owners of capital.
This scenario changed viticulture and the wine trade, reflecting both transitions in production methods and a primary re-orientation of the motives of wine producers and merchants. As the peasantry gained more freedom and liberation in various parts of Europe, these wine production methods also changed. Over time, a new consciousness of the potential profit from the wine trade gradually became prominent among the mercantile community. But this consciousness was not reflected in the re-investment of profits in wine production7.
During the age of exploration, four critical socioeconomic transitions could be identified. First, the new economic and social structures appeared during the 16th and 17th centuries, which paved the way for subsequent rapid population growth. Secondly, new production methods had been initiated in both agriculture and industry, which provided the foundation upon which the economy could develop at an unprecedented rate.
Thirdly, by the end of the 18th century, the economy had become global, leading to a revolution in both the trade patterns and underlying mechanisms. Fourthly, more sophisticated commercial negotiations made the global economy spatially differentiated and specialized.
These transformations lead to the re-organization of viticulture and the wine trade. In the stir of these passages of discovery, the practice of viticulture and the consumption of wine were ultimately taken to the furthermost corners of the world. During that period, while new regions were planted with vineyards across the world, new methods of viticulture and vinification were introduced, and innovative types of wine were produced.
Vines were one of the few crops that were grown across Europe and elsewhere due to the interests of the northwest European states, from Hungary to its periphery in Latin America. Examining the methods of viticulture in these different regions provides essential insights into the transformation of the economic structure of the period.
The emergence of the Banking Sector and Trade in Europe
Three main phases can be identified in the development of credit in Europe. The first phase emerged in Florence (Italy) during the late 13th and early 14th centuries, with the activities of the Lucchese, Frescobaldi, Bardi, and Peruzzi families. All these families became the bankers of the kings of England at various times. The Bardi and Peruzzi used money from the English king to compensate for the wool and provided the king with the credit. However, these families loaned large sums of money from their depositors.
As a result, the banking structure of the Bardi and Peruzzi collapsed when King Edward III of England defaulted on his debts in 1345. The second phase of banking development was identified by Braudel that was associated with the increased use of paper bills of exchange by the Genoese during the 16th century. Furthermore, the third phase of banking development took place in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam during the 18th century, which was also based on paper credit. These banking developments and the introduction of new credit systems facilitated many significant changes in the organization of trade, including the flourishing of winemaking businesses7.
Religion played an integral role in popularizing wine in the Middle Ages and during the Age of Exploration. There was a daily requirement for wine to celebrate the marvel of the Eucharist, which is the transubstantiation of wine into the blood of Christ. It meant that as Christianity spread to the New World and beyond, vineyards were planted to produce wine for the quotidian celebration of Mass5.
New World Wines Countries and Age of Exploration
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans visited and colonized North America. During the early times, they planted V. vinifera, but the plant struggled to survive. During this time, wine production spread widely across America. The speed with which vine cultivation extended through Latin America indicates the esteem in which the conquering Spaniards held wine. California’s wine industry was started by Franciscan missionaries7. In 1770, Franciscan missionaries planted the first V. vinifera, following the Spanish instruction to all landowners to plant vineyards. In the late 18th century, Spanish missionary Junipero Serra traveled to San Diego, California, where he established the first known vineyard in this region. Mexico became an independent nation as it liberated itself from Spain, and grape growing continued. After the takeover by the United States, shortly followed by the Gold Rush, wine production spread across the state of California from its southern regions to the wine hills north of San Francisco and beyond2.
The Australian continent was inhabited for probably 40,000 years by its native aboriginal population. Dutch explorers discovered the continent in 1606. In 1770, it was claimed by the British and became a penal colony5. In 1782, vine cuttings were brought to New South Wales (NSW) from South Africa. By 1820, commercial viticulture was established with vineyards planted entirely with V. vinifera vines imported from Europe since the Australian continent lacked native varieties. Consequently, the European immigrants brought wine traditions and culture with vines5.
Due to the specific climatic conditions in Australia, V. vinifera thrived pretty sound on this southern hemisphere continent2. Well-cultivated fruit grown in encouraging micro-climates suited to cultivating V. vinifera, associated with skillful winemaking in tune with European taste, yielded significant results. By the end of the 19th century, Australian wines were already winning awards and accolades against even the best wines that France could offer.
Missionaries first brought the European grapevine to New Zealand in the early 19th century. In 1836, British resident James Busby (a renowned and keen viticulturist) established a vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, Mission Estate. The wine culture never took off as British settlers brought a beer-drinking culture instead of wine to New Zealand.
In 1650, Vines first came to South Africa with the Dutch (the first European settlers in South Africa). In the mid-17th century, vineyards were established on South Africa’s Cape with cuttings of V. vinifera from France. Wines from these vineyards are considered historic due to a match with the most excellent wines from France or Germany. At the end of the 18th century, South Africa produced a juicy fortified wine variety called Constantia, which became famous like French wines.
Role of British Empire toward new world wine
During the imperial era, wineries were established immediately after the colonization of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand as part of a civilizing mission. The tidy vines with fruit symbolized Britain’s subordination to foreign lands. The 19th-century colonizer and vintners saw the British market as economically and culturally paramount. However, British drinkers were lethargic and suspicious of colonial wine. After the First World War, the tables began to turn when colonial wines were marketed as cheap and patriotic and started to find their niche among the British middle-class and working-class drinkers.
After the Second World War, this trend, combined with social and cultural shifted forward. Consequently, this laid the foundation for the New World revolution in the 1980s, making Britain an established wine-consuming country and a massive market for New World wines. These New World producers may have only received critical praise in the late 20th century. Still, Imperial Wine shows that they had spent centuries wooing the British market for inexpensive colonial wines.
On this Day
Between 1419 and 1519: Portuguese and other European expeditions visited and colonized many countries of the world, which had a profound impact on the history of the world, including its winemaking traditions.
1782: In this year, vine cuttings were brought to Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) from South Africa. By 1820, commercial viticulture was established with vineyards planted entirely with V. vinifera vines imported from Europe since the Australian continent lacked native varieties.
1492: Columbus sailed the Atlantic Ocean from Spain to America in 1492 and discovered an entirely new world that transformed history.
Want to read more? Try these books!
- New World Wine. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_wine.
- The Southern Hemisphere Arises. [book auth.] Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan. Wine For Dummies®, 4th Edition. s.l. : Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2006.
- Tanner, Alex. Old World vs. New World. Good Pair Days. [Online] 2019. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://www.goodpairdays.com/guides/wine-regions/article/old-world-vs-new-world/.
- The Long History of New World Wine. Long Now. [Online] 11 2, 2012. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://longnow.org/ideas/02012/11/02/the-long-history-of-new-world-wine/.
- Millon, Marc. Wine A Global History. s.l. : Reaktion Books Ltd, 2013.
- Briney, Amanda. A Brief History of the Age of Exploration. ThoughtCo. [Online] 1 23, 2020. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://www.thoughtco.com/age-of-exploration-1435006.
- Unwin, Tim. WINE IN THE AGE OF DISCOVERY. WINE AND THE VINE. s.l. : Routledge, 2005.
- Hagan, McKenzie. A Curious and Captivating History of Wine. Usual. [Online] 10 13, 2020. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://usualwines.com/blogs/knowledge-base/history-of-wine.
- Harre, Jim. The history of wine in New Zealand. New World. [Online] 2020. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://www.newworld.co.nz/discover/wine/history-of-wine.
- [book auth.] Jennifer Regan Lefebvre. Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World. s.l. : University of California Press, 2022.
 Briney, Amanda. A Brief History of the Age of Exploration. ThoughtCo . [Online] 1 23, 2020. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://www.thoughtco.com/age-of-exploration-1435006.
 Unwin, Tim. WINE IN THE AGE OF DISCOVERY. WINE AND THE VINE. s.l. : Routledge, 2005.
 Hagan, McKenzie. A Curious and Captivating History of Wine. Usual. [Online] 10 13, 2020. [Cited: 2 12, 2022.] https://usualwines.com/blogs/knowledge-base/history-of-wine.
 Lefebvre, Jennifer Regan. Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World. s.l. : University of California Press, 2022.