History of Wine

The history of wine goes back millenniums and is closely aligned with the history of agriculture, cuisine, civilization and humanity. While experts aren’t totally sure when wine production began, evidence of wine has been found in Armenia, Georgia, and Iran dating back to 8,000 to 5,000 BC. More recent evidence has been found in Sumer, Egypt, and the Near East from 3,000 BC that proves grapevines had been domesticated by this time.

We know Armenia holds the world’s oldest winery, dating back to 4100BC. Armenia’s wine history is ancient; archaeologists discovered evidence of large-scale wine production in the Areni-1 cave complex.

Evidence of the earliest wine production in Europe has been found in Macedonia, and is believed to be from 6,500 years ago. Some of the evidence found in Macedonia includes traces of crushed grapes, considered the world’s oldest crushed grape remnants in the world. In Egypt, wine consumption has been found in ancient records depicting ceremonies. Traces of wild wine have also been found in China dating to 1,000 and 2,000 BC.

Wine was commonly consumed in large quantities in Ancient Greece and Rome, these empires even spread wine production to Western Europe. The Roman Empire introduced a number of technologies to improve wine production, including the winepress and barrels. They also increased knowledge of different grape varietals and techniques to grow them.

As the Roman Empire declined and Europe entered the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church became the biggest supporter of the wine industry. The Catholic Church needed a steady stream of wine for their mass.  As the years went by wine production began increasing and consumption became more and more popular into the 15th century and even to today’s time.

American Grape Varietal Hybrids

Norton Grape

The Norton grape varietal is an old, very successful American hybrid that makes rich, reds in a wide range of American states. This varietal is named after Daniel Norton(1794-1842), a physician and horticulturist near Richmond, Virginia, who discovered it around 1820. A recent DNA study has shown that Norton is a hybrid variety whose ancestry includes Vitis aestivalis and Vitis vinifera. Its vinifera parent is though to be Enfarine Noir.

Viticultural characteristic

Small to medium size compact bunches of small, tough-skinned berries with blue blossom. Vigorous and best on well-drained sandy and gravel soils. May be prone to magnesium deficiency. It is tolerant of many fungal diseases.

Did You Know: A wine made from the Norton varietal won a gold medal at the Vienna International Exhibits in 1873. And prior to Prohibition, Norton’s wine had a significant impact on the American wine industry.

Hybrid Alexander Grape

French immigrants in Jacksonville tried to make wine between 1562 and 1564, but it was unsuccessful. After several failed attempts, the grapes growers searched for new varieties of grapes capable of producing high-quality wine. Winemaking was a popular pastime among the former residents of both Carolina and Virginia.

The native grapes had long been used by early immigrants to produce wine. But the native grapes did not produce very high quality wines compared to the European grapes. So colonies attempted to bring grape plants from the European mainland. The French introduced the ‘visit viniferous’ cultivar to Virginia in 1619. A plague of pests and diseases has made it difficult to grow these European grapes, so efforts were made to cross the native and European grapes.

In one incident of cross-breeding, a disease-resistant vine was born. 1683 saw Pennsylvania’s first hybrid orchard being planted, and they lauded it as tasting the closest to European types at the time William Penn himself planted it. Selective breeding has resulted in the creation of hybrid Alexander grapes.

The Missionary Grape

In December 1769, Father Juniper Serra planted grapes and built a winery at the first mission in San Diego de Alcala (Li,2021). The first mission arrived in Sonoma later in 1805. The missionary observed that the native American grape Vitis rupestris was incapable of producing high-quality wine, so they imported a Spanish Vitis vinifera variety called Mission.

History of Wine Timeline

7000 B.C.

Wine scientist and anthropologist Dr. Patrick McGovern discovered that the world’s first scientifically proven alcoholic beverage was produced in the Henan region of China. Grapes, rice, honey, and hawthorn berries constituted an ancient fermented beverage during the Early Neolithic Period. To verify the centuries-old wine-making process, McGovern and his colleagues put the mixture with yeast on its skins in jars, and they determined that fermentation had occurred.

To learn whether grapes were fermented alone or with other fruits, further research is required. In these earlier times alcohol was considered a spiritual drink, used for religious and burial ceremonies.

2100 B.C.

In 2007 researchers in Armenia’s mountains discovered the world’s oldest winery in a cave. In this cave, archaeologists discovered a grape press, a fermentation jar, and drinking bowls and cups. They also discovered that Vitus vinifera, the most prevalent grape variety used today, was used in the production of wine.

Researchers believe that the wine produced here may have resembled Merlot in flavor. For the first time, we have proof of a whole winemaking process in ancient times. The wines produced here may have been utilized in religious rituals because of the cave’s significance as a burial ground.

3100 B.C.

Wine in Ancient Egypt was believed to be produced from red grapes. Amphorae (large clay vessels with two handles) were used to keep wine fresh for an extended period. Ancient Egyptians believed that the deity of rebirth, Osiris enjoyed drinking blood-red wine. They have documented a wide range of ceremonial and therapeutic uses from the archaeological evidence, including funerals. Evidence of white wine consumption was first discovered in Egypt when an amphorae was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

1200 B.C.-539 B.C.

Phoenicians introduced winemaking to many regions of the world, such as Greece and Italy, as well as modern-day Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Turkey. Historically, these regions had a higher concentration of grapevines.

800 B.C.

The Phoenicians introduced wine to the Ancient Greeks along with its symbolic implications. The Ancient Greeks created the deity Dionysus to represent wine, proving the beverages popularity in this time period.

Greece’s expanding city-states made winemaking increasingly vital for their conquest. Greeks, like the Phoenicians before them, travelled with grapevines and wine in their luggage.

200 B.C.-100 B.C.

In imitation of the Greeks, the Romans created their own wine god, Bacchus. The word “bacchanalian,” which refers to inebriated merriment, comes from this phrase.

Barrels and other Roman innovations helped Roman winemakers improve on their Greek forebears’ techniques. After crushing the grapes in the Roman wine press, the juice was separated from the skins using a colander-like device called an Osculum (the Latin word for “wine press”).

Prior to fermentation in amphorae buried in the ground or even immersed in water, the juice sometimes be boiled in order to preserve the flavor of the fruit.

Unlike the “drink of the gods” enjoyed by Egyptian pharaohs, in the Roman period, wine was generally accessible to everyone. France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal are among the countries in the Roman Empire where wines were produced.

306-380 A.D.

During the reign of Constantine the Great, Christianity took root in Roman society, and the Catholic Church was established (A.D. 306-337) (Kim, 2021). At that time, wine gained a central role in liturgical celebrations such as those associated with the Eucharistic (also known as communion). To commemorate the Last Supper wine is used to represent Jesus’ blood.

There were many Christian congregations that used the symbolism of wine or the wine itself. People consumed wine for both social and spiritual reasons (although grape juice is a typical replacement in modern times).

1492-1600 A.D.

Christopher Columbus, on one of his four trips from Spain, discovered the New World in 1492 AD. Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World sparked an era of tremendous exploration and conquest throughout North and South America (Rytkönen, 2021). European explorers and missionaries migrated to the New World bringing winemaking methods to the Americas during the 16th century. The wine business in South America had substantial expansion during this time period.

A group of Spanish missionaries in Santiago, Chile’s capital, built the country’s first winery (not surprising since wine was a mainstay of the Catholic Church by then). Missionaries, who eventually sold the grapes they had grown, planted a vineyard in the Mendoza wine region.

1769-1830 A.D.

Juniper Serra, a Spanish priest, formed California’s first mission and built its first documented vineyard in the late 1700s. They began producing Mission grapes, a kind of Vitus viniferous that is native to Spain.

The Mission grape could produce sweet white wine, sweet red wine, and a sweet fortified wine. Mission grapes ruled the California state for many years until being supplanted by other types of grapes about 1830 A.D. Soon after, other Europeans immigrated to Los Angeles and established their own wines.

The 1830s

English winemaker and novelist James Busby worked in the UK, Scotland, and Australia during the “Oceania’s Golden Age” period. They did not plant Australian vineyards with European grapes cuttings until the early 1800s. Busby began cultivating grapes in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1800s. It is because of this that they consider him to be Australia’s “founding father” of the wine industry.

The 1980s to Today

At the end of the wine history, we will have a look at China’s winemaking heritage now. In recent years China has seen a tremendous expansion in their economy, and has become a large wine consumer and producer. Over the years, wine’s popularity and reputation have increased significantly in China, despite rice wine’s continued dominance in the country.

However, the volume of wine produced in China has dramatically reduced during the last several years. One theory holds that the decline is due to poor growing conditions, dwindling interest in home winemaking, and an increase in the importation of wine from more renowned vineyards. Wine will remain around for a long time, no matter what happens at the conclusion of this narrative.

Your Wine Has a Story

For a wine lover, it is important to learn more about the various wine-producing and wine-drinking traditions throughout the world. The social and spiritual aspects of winemaking in Greco-Roman culture and beyond had a significant effect on winemaking in Europe and beyond. In every sip, you may find a sliver of the past.

The Prohibition Hit and Shipping Difficulties

The 18th Amendment was ratified on June 13th, 1917, and became law in the United States. The constitution forbade the production, sale, or transportation of alcoholic liquors. In contrast to the vast majority of states that followed the blueprint, Rhode Island deviated from it (Drieu et al.,2021). Congress strictly enforced the ban act. However, the ban was repealed on August 25, 1920.

Vineyards Locations and Wineries Growth

According to Dave McIntyre of McIntyre Vineyards, there are over 8,000 wineries operating in the United States. However, among such numerous wineries, only a select handful have received official recognition. Three large corporations produce half of the wine consumed in the United States, with California playing a significant role.

Use of Wine

Wine has been consumed for different purposes throughout history. At some points wine has been used primarily for medical purposes. While at other times wine was consumed for hydration since clean water for drinking was not easily accessible.

Since wine has natural antibacterial properties, it can be stored for a long time, and even some individuals would blend a potent wine mixed with their water to cleanse the water. Moreover, the wine was used by the Ancient Greeks during their religious celebrations. Actually, many old cultures used wine as a way of relaying information to their gods from the invigorating effect of wine, which made it very pleasing. Thus, wine was extremely appreciated in temples and religious revelry.

Wine and Food Pairing

To create a wonderful holiday experience, a feast for the family, or rather a discreet celebration, selecting the right bottles to pair with a meal is fundamental. Wine has become a necessary part of the gatherings. Wine experts have worked hard to create wines suitable for every occasion. Therefore, wine and food pairing make the dining experience memorable for every event.

See more resources here

Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!

Wine Journeys- Myth and History The Story of Wine- From Noah to Now

References:

  1. Araujo, M. V., Monaco, G. L., & Bruch, K. L. (2021). Social Mobility and the Social Representation of Sparkling Wine in Brazil and France. Wine Economics and Policy, 10(1), 89-100.
  2. Baumgartinger-Seiringer, S., Doloreux, D., Shearmur, R., & Trippl, M. (2022). When history does not matter? The rise of Quebec’s wine industry. Geoforum, 128, 115-124.
  3. Charters, S., Unwin, T., Smith Maguire, J., Dutton, J., Harding, G., Denton, M., & Demossier, M. (2021). Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture.
  4. Drieu, L., Orecchioni, P., Capelli, C., Meo, A., Lundy, J., Sacco, V., … & Craig, O. E. (2021). Chemical evidence for the persistence of wine production and trade in Early Medieval Islamic Sicily. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(10).
  5. Dumitru, I. (2021). The Evolution of Vine and Wine Law in Romania. History and Present. Rev. Universul Juridic, 120.
  6. FRANCES, E. C., JOHNSON, O. O., & FRANCES, M. E. (2021). ISOLATION AND IDENTIFICATION OF MICROORGANISMS IN WINE PRODUCED FROM RED MUSCAT GRAPES. Asian Journal of Plant and Soil Sciences, 123-129.
  7. Fu, W., & Kim, H. S. (2021). A Study on Wine Cognition using Semantic Network Analysis: Focused on Chinese Wine Market. Culinary Science & Hospitality Research, 27(7), 221-231.
  8. Jiang, Z. Y. L. (2021). Research on Sichuan Wine Culture and Brand Communication from the Perspective of Globalization.
  9. Li, R., & Zheng, Y. (2021). The Folk Custom History of Ruanshe Wine Lane in Shaoxing. Forest Chemicals Review, 280-288.
  10. McHugh, J. (2021). Grape wine in ancient and early Medieval India: The view from the center. The Indian Economic & Social History Review, 58(1), 113-144.
  11. Nemes, R. (2021). Global Pests, National Pride, Local Problems, and the Crisis of Hungarian Wine, 1867–1914. Austrian History Yearbook, 52, 131-146.
  12. Outreville, J. F. (2021). Wine Consumption and Religions: A Research Note. Beverages, 7(4), 70.
  13. Rytkönen, P. (2021). Wine in the Soviet food regime: Experiences Fromarmenia and Georgia. Baltic Worlds, (3), 14-26.
  14. Photo by Riccardo Bernucci on Unsplash

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!