The next time you walk down the supermarket aisle looking for wine or visit a vineyard in the heart of France, spare a thought for the history associated with all those bottles. Wine making is one of the oldest professions and has been around since we started congregating together in communities.

Why anyone decided to turn those grapes into an alcoholic treat is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it was just chance when various grapes and berries were left to ferment and someone was brave enough to taste the end results.

The Prehistory of Wine

Wine making didn’t just start in one location and suddenly spread. There’s archaeological evidence of wine making stretching back to 7,000 BC in China and later examples in Greece, Sicily and Georgia to name just a few. By 4,000 BC people were producing wine on a larger scale in regions like Armenia where the oldest known winery was recently discovered.

The Areni-1 cave in Southern Armenia suggests that wine making for the locals had been around for a lot longer. According to site archaeologist Gregory Areshian:

“This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production. For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years.”

Wine and Later Civilisation

Wine played an important part in many civilisations including the Egyptian where it was part of ceremonial life. The Phoenicians were also great wine makers and probably one of the first big producers to transport and distribute their own vintages around the Mediterranean.

Of course, you can’t forget the Greeks and then the Romans, both of whom helped develop much of the culture that surrounds wine which we see today. Indeed, the Romans were responsible for making significant advances in wine making technology including mixing it with herbs and minerals to make medicinal drinks.

Wine and Europe

We often associate wine making with areas of Europe like France while not realising how universal it has always been. Wine was a staple part of European society by the Middle Ages, mostly for the rich who could afford it rather than the lower classes. The development of the vineyards that we recognise today in areas like Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne can be attributed to the Benedictine monks.

Much of the wine producing world we know today grew out of areas like this, spreading to countries as far reaching as Australia, New Zealand and the Americas as new communities were formed. Thomas Jefferson, when he was made minister to France, was largely responsible for the United States becoming a wine producing nation when he visited Bordeaux in 1785. It wasn’t until the California Gold Rush, however, that it really took off, fed by a real mix of people from all over the world who wanted wine.

With ever more sophisticated processes being developed, it comes as no surprise that certain vineyards began to gain notoriety for their own vintages. That led to standards being set such as the appellation d’origine controlee which protects the geographic production of certain products, including wine, in France. With greater provenance, wine collecting also became popular and it’s not unusual nowadays for certain bottles to sell for thousands of pounds. A recent sample of a bottle of Château d’Yquem from 1860 to 2003 sold for $1.5 million.

The good news is that the wine industry across the world seems to be in pretty good health. Even in regions like the UK we’re seeing vineyards develop and produce good quality, homegrown wines. That’s brilliant news for wine lovers who are always looking for something a little different to excite their palates.

9 comments

  1. Yes, I belief Thomas Jefferson played a vital role in the large development of vines seen presently in the US. Jefferson made good use of his good relationship with the French to transfer business ideas that are appreciated by those who presently produce wine.

  2. I think France has a place in the history of wine production, though the country cannot be said to be the place where the first wine was produced, yet they brought vital inputs such as packaging and commercialization. Great read! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Interesting titbit to read that the earliest evidence of wine was 7000 BC in China, I have always thought that its origins were in Europe. I’ve also noticed the growing popularity of English wine, long may it continue!

  4. Let’s hope political isolation doesn’t undermine the development of a trade whose history seems to be linked to the movement of people’s.

  5. Appreciating the major role that wine has played throughout history and across the world , not only enhances the experience of drinking wine but adds to the occasion when it comes to entertaining and celebrating.

  6. A fascinating and succinct read about the history of wine. I am glad this ancient industry with its traditional methodology is healthy and still growing. I will definitely choose my wine more considerately from now on.

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