The history of wine has its origins in early Mesopotamia as far back as 6,000 years before Christ (BC). The Mesopotamians were the first people known to have cultivated grapevines.
From peasants to royalty and ancient civilizations to today, wine has been enjoyed by many for thousands upon thousands of years.
The History of Wine Ancient Beginnings
While wine was first known to be cultivated in Mesopotamia, the harvesting of grapes and winemaking was first recorded in Ancient Egypt beginning around 4,000 BC. Ancient Egyptians used stone tablets or wrote on walls to record information about their grape harvests.
The production of wine and its consumption were given great importance in the social realm of Ancient Egypt and were drunk primarily by the country’s upper class. All of Egypt seemed to love their wine – Pharaohs in particular, as they were known to import what they could not grow and were often buried with bottles of wine so ensure a tolerable trip to the underworld. Egypt’s wine was fermented and stored in earthenware pots called “amphorae”, which were largely unsealed vessels.
History of Wine Expands to Ancient Greece and Roman Empire
The history of wine made its way to Greece, where it was revered and immortalized by Greek poets, artists and historians, as well as in their religious literature. But like Ancient Egypt, the early history of wine indicates that common class citizens did not partake in wine; the upper class considered it their exclusive privilege to consume wine.
Greece is credited with perfecting the Egyptian amphorae with tight seals that it allowed the wine to mature, hence also receiving credit for the first known aging of wine before drinking.
During the Roman Empire, wine production began to spread across Europe. It was also during this time that wine became available for consumption by common citizens. Wine was so revered and popular in the Roman Empire that some of its cities built bars selling wine positioned along many of their streets.
Much of the Roman wines were sweet wines, but the Romans also experimented with wine making to the extent of adding some peculiar flavorings to the wine, like onions, garlic, and fermented fish sauce, to name a few.
The Romans may have been the first to top the Greeks in wine storage, as they are credited as being the first in the history of wine to introduce wine barrels or wooden casks. Initially, the Romans hadn’t worked out how to create an airtight seal in the casks. The wine, therefore, could not undergo a successful aging process, and the result was that they had to drink the wine young. But, they soon figured out how to create an airtight seal and are also credited in the history of wine making with being the first to do some serious aging of wine.
The History of Wine Goes to France and England
It is thought that the Romans introduced the grapevine to France, which, at the time, was known as Gaul.
The history of French wine spans back at least to the 6th century with the Romans doing much to encourage the planting of the grapevine in regions that would one day become the famous wine regions of France, including Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, Bordeaux, and the Loire and Rhone Valleys.
The French regions of Burgundy and Champagne are credited with the initial concept of wine “terroir” in the history of wine, meaning that a wine could be identified with a specific region. When Cistercian monks, an order founded by the Benedictines, applied themselves to winemaking in a manner unique to French winemakers, they noticed that certain tracts of land, even if just a few feet away from each other, produced significantly different wine results. The monk’s astute recording of these observations laid the foundation for the identification of French terroir.
Previous to the French Revolution, the Christian Church also did much to promote wine making in France and became one of the country’s largest vineyard owners as the use of wine became a key component of “communion” or the sacrament of the Eucharist.
An important factor in the history of wine and it spreading to England was the marriage in 1152 of Eléonore of Aquitaine (Bordeaux region) with Henry Plantagenet, who was to become Henry II, the future king of England. The marriage brought a huge area of southwestern France under British domain.
Lacking a reliable source of safe drinking water in many part of Europe, wine became an important part of their daily diet. The French also began to favor stronger, heavier wines during this time.
During the Shakespearean age, the British clearly enjoyed their wine and began to converse, or perhaps lament, about its virtues and drawbacks with great enthusiasm, more so than was previously done. However, at the end of his life, an abundance of fresh water became available to London, giving drinkers an option between water and wine (actually beer was also drunk quite a bit during this time).
The History of Wine in the 17th and 18th Centuries
With a readily accessible supply of fresh water, wine was no longer required to be a key part of the diet. However, steady new developments in winemaking and the preserving of wine kept the industry alive. It was around 1750 that a cylindrical bottle fitted with an impermeable cork was developed to the storing and aging of wine in larger quantities. Better methods of wine production were also developed, lending a hand to the preservation of the wine industry.
The history of wine making went through numerous changes in the 18th century. Due to England’s strained relationship with France during this time, the English was forced elsewhere to get their wine and turned to Holland, Portugal, Germany, and South Africa to purchase wine. It wasn’t long before Port wine from Portugal became the favorite wine in England for a time.
However, the French wine industry flourished during this time, particularly in the Bordeaux region. Merchants frequenting Bordeaux came from Germany, Holland, Ireland, and Scandinavia. Consequently, the people of Bordeaux were able to trade their wine for coffee and other New World items, cementing the part wine played in the growing world trade industry.
Wine History of the 19th Century
By the mid-19th century, French wine had become a great source of national pride for the people of France as it had become known as the benchmark of wine making standards in the international wine world. This era in the history of wine was a time of great prosperity, dubbed the “golden age of wines” of the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions.
Yet, the regions were not without their tragedies and challenges; about 1863 numerous French grape plants suffered from a strange disease caused by an insect known as a Phylloxera aphid. The result of this plight was for some of France’s wine makers to relocate to the Rioja region of northern Spain. Here the French taught Spaniards the art of making wine from a local grape plant known as the Tempranillo.
Wine History of the New World
The New World wine makers began to challenge Old World wine makers round about the 19th century. Ironically, Thomas Jefferson had a hand in influencing the way America viewed wine with is belief that the shortage of fine or quality wines here were driving American to indulge in an over-abundance of hard liquor; a perspective that lived on after Jefferson’s death.
A little known fact in the history of wine is that Ohio was America’s first region to grow successful wine grapes. However, California wine took its place in wine history quite soon after Ohio began grape production, sort of fading Ohio’s glory.
California wine history and its advancements through the ages has spread to other regions of the United States, regions that are equally conducive to growing wine grapes as is Northern California’s Napa Valley. Such other U.S. regions include Oregon, Washington State, and New York.
The Wine of Modern Times
Due to a number of events, we’ve seen a revolution in wine making and the wine industry. Electricity, refrigeration, harvesting machinery, and transportation are just a few things that had a great impact on wine. Modern wineries now can attain control over every aspect of wine making, from growing and harvesting to crushing and bottling.
Wineries have become larger and more efficient with the ability to market their wines around the world. Although, along with the benefits of technological advancements comes the challenge of producing quantities of wine without diminishing the wine’s superb characteristics in terms of flavor, aroma, and complexity. Yet, many wineries take on the challenge with much success, and what’s more, it’s now done around the world.
Today wine is made and distributed from countries across the globe, including Australia, Chile, Argentina, the United States, Austria, France, Italy, and South Africa, to name some of the largest wine producing areas, each one a history of wine making in progress.