A Brief History of Wine

It seems like wine has become more and more accepted within the general population, especially in recent years. Wine has been around for centuries dating back to China (c.7000 BC), Georgia Sakartvelo (c. 6000 BC), Iran (c. 7400 BC, c. 5000 BC), and Greece (c. 4500 BC). The oldest practical evidence of wine production was recently discovered in 2011 in Armenia (c. 4100 BC), with the oldest known winery being found to date. This winery was unearthed in the “Areni-1” cave in Vayots Dzor and contained an actual wine press, fermentation vats, jars and cups. Archaeologists even detected V. vinifera seeds and vines. It’s suggested that wine found in Armenia is said to be at least 6,100 years old. Below are a couple photos of the winery and the artifacts discovered within: 

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Regardless of all the places and dates mentioned above, what’s the deal with wine and why has it become so popular over the recent years? The acceptance of wine in today’s world seems to be taking on a household staple, a global phenomenon if you will. It was even believed in ancient times that the altered level of consciousness from the effects of alcohol in wine was considered to be some sort of religious experience. 

Wine production and consumption increased around the 15th century as part of the vast European expansion. Despite the disastrous 1887 phylloxera louse infestation that fed on the roots and leaves of the grapevines, which cut the flow of nutrients and water to the vines themselves, modern science and technology have adapted which has left industrial wine production and consumption to occur normally throughout the world. Below are a couple of images depicting the louse and what it did to the vines as a result of its plague. 

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Wine’s origin introduces records with some uncertainty of the details of the first cultivation of grapevines. It is believed that humans actually climbed trees to pick berries and enjoyed the sugary flavors that came from them so much, they eventually collected them in jars. Not even a few days went by and the fermentation process would start to set in. Once this took place, the juice on the bottom of the container would begin producing low-alcohol wine. 

For some people, the actual definition of fermentation leaves them scratching their heads. It sounds good and even feels like a logical explanation for the process of making wine but what does it actually mean? To level the playing field so we can all understand, but not getting too deep into the whole metabolic process, fermentation is simply this; fermentation is the conversion of natural sugars found in grapes and turning them into acids, gases, or alcohol. This occurs in yeast and bacteria. In the absence of oxygen, yeast converts the sugars from the grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In food, fermentation is used to produce lactic acid which is found in sour foods such as pickled cucumbers, kimachi, and yogurt, just to name a few. This can also be said for making wine. Fermentation simply means the production of alcohol. An example of fermenting wine is shown below. 

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Moving forward, lets observe the etiological myths suggesting the first recorded cultivation of grapes and fermentation of wine. In the biblical passage of Genesis, which first mentions the production of wine, Noah drunkenly exposes himself to his sons following the Great Flood. The picture below is of Noah, and his sons coming over to cover him up as he is drunk and indecent. 

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According to Greek mythology, Dionysus’s discovery of viticulture at Mount Nysa, rather had him teach his discovery to the people of central Anatolia. Later he would be rewarded the anoitance of becoming a god of wine. 

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As centuries have passed, wine has evolved tremendously. Lebanon for example is one of the oldest sites of wine capable of being produced in the world. One medieval application in history was the use of snake stones (or banded agate which is Quartz, resembling the rings on a snake). These stones were dissolved in wine as a remedy for actual snake bites. This would indicate an early appreciation on the effects of alcohol on the Central Nervous System. 

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Housewives in medieval Europe would water-down wine at a ratio of 4 or 5 parts water to one part wine to offset the effects of heavy alcohol consumption. This was due to the fact that wines were kept in barrels and not extensively aged, therefore enjoyed quite often. Even in the Middle Ages, wine was an accepted drink of all social classes in the south, while beer and ale were the usual beverages of commoners and nobility. Below is one housewife during medieval times teaching another housewife the proper technique for conserving wine. 

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European grape varieties were first presented to what is now Mexico by the 1st Spanish Conquistadors to accommodate the Catholic Holy Eucharist. Planted in Spanish missions, one particular variety came to be recognized as the mission grape which is still planted today in small amounts. Mission grapes, known as Chile as Pais and in Argentina as Criolla Chica. Today, wine in the America’s is often associated with Argentina, California, and Chile, all of which produce Old World grape varieties. Certain regions have adapted grapes that have become closely identified to them. California Zinfandel initiates from Croatia and Southern Italy. Argentina’s Malbec and Chile’s Carmene`re (both French) are some more popularized examples. Up until the latter part of the 20th century, American wine was primarily viewed as inferior to wines of Europe. With an unexpected American showing at the Paris Wine tasting of 1976 as seen below, New World wine gained respect in the land of wines biggest influences of that time. 

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In the late 19th century, the phylloxera louse destroyed grapevines, wine production as a whole, even those whose livelihoods depended on them. These repercussions included the loss of some pivotal indigenous varieties. The hard lessons that came from this disaster led to positive transformations of Europe’s wine industry. Lost vineyards were uprooted and reorganized for better, more practical uses. France for example, their best butters and cheeses are now made from cows that graze on Charentais soil, which was once covered with vines. Cuvee’s were standardized and Champagne and Bordeaux ultimately achieved the grape mixes that now define them. 

 Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries without some sort of wine tradition are considered New World producers. Wine production began in the Cape Province of South Africa in the 1680’s as a business for supplying ships. Australia’s First Fleet (1788) brought cuttings of vines from South Africa, although initially planted, failed leaving the 1st successful vineyards to be established in the early 19th century. Australia’s main export was the United Kingdom. New Zealand reserved most of its wine for local consumption, while South Africa was often isolated from the world market due to racial segregation. However, due to the increase in mechanization and scientific advances toward wine making, these countries were known for making substantial and highly sought after wines.