DiscoverThe History of Wine

The History of Wine

Wine’s importance throughout history is evident. One has to look no further than ancient literature, where the consumption and offering of wine to guests would dictate tradition and reflect on the honor of heroes. Though its historical and contemporary importance is clear, I realized that I didn’t know that much about its history and specific cultural significance. So, I did some research in hopes of helping others with a similar question.

The Prologue: 6000 BCE – 4000 BCE

In 2017, a group of researchers in modern-day Georgia (the country) excavated and analyzed an archaeological site where they found ancient pottery. The pottery seemed somewhat special, and after laboratory analysis of cloth wrapped around the vessels, scientists found evidence in some samples that grape fermentation had taken place. This offered the earliest supported evidence of ‘wine’, and suggested that fermentation has been performed for over 8,000 years, since about 6,000 BCE. The Image below shows what some of the clay pots they created looked like.

Photo Courtesy of PNAS.com

Researchers also dated the first ‘wine press’ around 500 years later, 5,500 BCE, in South Caucasus. The press appears to have collected grape juice and drained it into a large vat – most likely men or women would press the grapes by foot. In the 5th century BCE wine seems to have spread to other areas, with evidence of wine found in Iran, Armenia, and Turkey. Most likely, the actual winemaking was concentrated in individual villages. With no evidence of a larger winery found until 4100 BCE, where a team from Armenia, Ireland, and UCLA found a ‘winery’ in Armenia where people would press whole grapes with their feet, where juice would then collect in a basin, draining into a large ~15 gallon vat where it would then ferment. 

Photo of the first wine press

The Rise: 1,500 BCE – 500 CE

Wine history is then relatively quiet between the 3,500 years spanning 4,000 BCE and 1,500 BCE. However, with the rise of the Phoenician civilization and their trade routes came the spread of their culture (including their wine) in the Mediterranean region. The Phoenicians were believed to have been the first civilization who had a major impact on the wine trade and wine development. Their most important impact: the spread of grapevines. It is believed that the ancient people introduced what is now known as the Mourvèdre french grape to Barcelona in around 500 BCE.

From this point on, wine’s impact on the culture of the ancient world is clear in our recorded historical texts. Authors such as Homer and Sappho sang extensively about wine, often using it as imagery for erotic or sensual scenarios. The rise of the Romans in central Europe brought with it wine and vines. Although it is debated by specialists, it is very likely that through conquest, Rome accidentally began many famous wine-growing areas, such as Côte-Rôtie.

The Modernization: 500 CE – 1500 CE

Wine’s role in society transitioned in the Middle Ages, as people turned away from ‘wine culture’ which had existed under the Greeks and Romans. Instead, they switched to cheaper, more readily available alcohols (such as meed). However, there was one institution that featured wine: the Roman Catholic Church. As a part of the mass proceedings, wine’s role transitioned away from culture and more towards sacred.

During this era, monks in France began to make wine with land gifted to the Christian Orders. With little to do besides pray and grow wine necessary for mass, the monks began experimenting with different wine growing techniques, documenting their results. In this way, over many generations, monks developed the art of wine growing until their product was recognized for its quality. One such example of this is the Cistercian Order, who were founded in 1098 CE. These monks grew grapes on the Côte de Beaune, a region in France now known for its wine.

The Current: 1500 CE – Present

As vineyards became established locations with distinct wine types, regions of wine-growing in Europe developed. This led to the different practices for growing vines and types of wine that we have today. With the industrial revolution and following innovations, the process of making wine slightly shifted. Now, winemakers utilize machines (see: crusher-steamer) that aid in the process of making wine. Furthermore, it is now quicker and easier to produce wine than historical civilizations could – meaning that the quality and quantity of wine has drastically increased along with the sophistication of production techniques. We’ve come a long way from the ‘vineyards’ in the Armenian mountains to the lush and diverse selection of wines today, suggesting that the future has more exciting things in store!

Additional Reading

If you have some extra time, I employ you to research the story of the Vikings and their expedition to ‘Vinland’ – the land of the grapes. The tale is very interesting and further adds to the storied history of wine!

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