Whether you’re a history enthusiast or not, you have to agree there’s something wonderful about knowing the history of what you wear, eat, and drink, and wine is no exception. Studying how it all began can pique your interest and put things into perspective. Making the connection between the world’s first wine grape and your most recent bottle of wine adds depth to the experience and allows you to appreciate and enjoy it more fully.
That said, for thousands of years, wine has been molded by both fashion and innovation. So, understanding how wine has changed over the years can teach you a lot about how life must have been. So, on that note, join us on a journey through the history of wine, including where it came from (hint: it wasn’t France) and how different cultures have made and consumed it over time. So, without further ado, let’s begin!
History of Wine: Origins of Winemaking
There’s no denying that winemaking and wine culture are associated in France, Italy, and Spain. France is home to some of the world’s most renowned wine regions, including Bordeaux, the “wine capital of the world.” Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are just a few of the world’s most popular varietals and wines.
However, the history of wine does not begin with Spanish, Italian, or French wine. Instead, wine was originally made in China in approximately 7000 B.C., followed by Georgia and Armenia around 6000 and 6100 BC.
History of Wine: New World vs. Old World vs. Ancient World Wine
Understanding the terms “New World,” “Old World, ” and “Ancient World” wines will be helpful when it comes to learning the history of wine. These wine terms are primarily geographical.
New World Wine
New-world wine comes from almost any place that isn’t deemed ancient. So, for example, the New World wine regions include Canada, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia. But then, there’s also the USA, where the most well-known wine states are Washington, California, and Oregon.
Old World Wine
Traditional wine regions throughout the Middle, the Mediterranean, and East Europe produce old-world wine, where viniculture really started. Again, Vitis vinifera is a popular grapevine used in the production of Old World wine. This grape is indigenous to the Mediterranean.
Ancient World Wine
As previously stated, wine did not originate in today’s most commonly-known wine regions. Instead, the world’s first winemakers developed wine-making techniques that fermented grape juice into alcohol in ancient wine regions, including Egypt, Iran, Armenia, and China.
History of Wine: The Timeline
A bottle of exquisite wine starts its journey with grapes being harvested, crushed, and fermented. The fermentation process is the most important step in winemaking because this turns grape juice into what we know as wine today.
That said, we couldn’t possibly include every single location, discovery, or development because the history of wine is spread across multiple centuries. We can, however, share some of the biggest hits. So, here’s a quick rundown of wine’s global journeys and how different cultures have made and enjoyed it over time.
James Busby, a Scottish-born, Australian-based viticulturist and writer, ushered in a new age for wine growing in Oceania in the early nineteenth century. He obtained grapevine cuttings from Europe and planted vineyards in Australia while researching and traveling between Europe and Australia.
He eventually brought these cuttings to New Zealand, opening the country’s first vineyard in 1836. Descendants of his initial cuttings are still prospering in vineyards across New Zealand and Australia nearly two hundred years later. So, it’s no surprise that he’s known as the “Father of Australian Wine.”
The 1400s to the 1600s
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” all of us know the song. Christopher Columbus and his crew stumbled across the Americas when they set out from Spain. As a result, his “discovery” of the new world ushered in a new South and North American colonization period.
Transatlantic voyages in the 16th century saw Spanish conquistadors invade Brazil and Mexico, bringing European grape culture with them. Due to this, wine production grew rapidly in South America.
The ancient Greeks started drinking wine and utilizing it as a symbol for health, trade, and religion because of the Phoenicians. Wine was so revered in ancient Greece that it was given its own god: Dionysus. Harvested grapes were placed in wicker baskets, then crushed before being placed in pithos – big ceramic jars identical to Egyptian amphoras. Fermentation took place in these jars.
Wine production grew in tandem with the rise of Greek city-states across the Mediterranean. Greeks, like the Phoenicians, transported grapevines. They brought the Vitis vinifera grape to newly occupied territories, like Sicily, before eventually arriving in Rome.
In the Armenian mountains, a group of researchers discovered the world’s oldest vineyard in a cave. Fermentation jars, a grape press, and a drinking cup and bowl were among the items found in this cave. It was also discovered that the wine grapes used to produce wine were Vitis vinifera, which is the same as the grapes used in most modern wines. As a result, researchers believe the final product will be comparable to an unfiltered red wine with a Merlot flavor.
While wine consumption began in China, this finding marks the beginning of comprehensive wine manufacturing. In addition, because the cave was historically a prominent cemetery location, experts believe the wine from Armenia was probably utilized for burial ceremonies.
Understanding the history of wine and how different cultures have crafted and consumed it over the years can help you enjoy your wine more. After all, wine is much more than just a drink made from fermented grapes in a glass, from the first winery buried in Armenia to the Phoenicians’ worldwide influence on winemaking to qualities of wine in Greco-Roman society and beyond. But, in the end, we know little about how wine has changed over the years. All we know is that today’s wine is a byproduct of radical changes in human history. So, the more you know, the more you can enjoy every sip you take!