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Wine Tasting | History Of Wine | Fruit Of The Vine

Wine’s origins are largely a mystery. No one really knows when wines were first made, and it is speculated that the creation of the first wines were almost certainly an accident. It is likely that wine was born sometime in prehistory: man’s ancestors found grapes growing on wild vines, squashed them to make juice, and, when they tried to keep this juice for a day or two in their simple clay pots, the wild yeasts worked their magic…


Wine and Ancient Civilization

Wine’s long and rich history dates back nearly 10,000 years. The earliest known references to wine include those found in the pictographs of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, whose civilizations flourished on riverbeds in Africa and the Middle East about 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians believed that wine was a gift from the god Osiris, who controlled the inundation of the river Nile, their lifeblood; their wine industry was surprisingly modern, given the time period, in both the way they cultivated grapes and the way they made the wine itself. Like the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians (Persians) regarded wine as a divine gift and made many toasts of praise to their gods with it. The Phoenicians, based in North Africa, were the first to explore wine in a commercial sense, being a civilization dependent mostly upon maritime trade, and this is how it is believed to have made its way to Greece, Sicily and North-Central Italy.

Wine was also made by early Etruscan civilizations in what is modern-day Italy, prior to their conquest by the Roman Empire, and the Chinese made wine some time before 2,000 B.C.


The Roman Empire and Wine’s Expansion to Western Europe

The Roman Empire had, by far, the greatest impact on the development of viticulture and enology than any other ancient civilization. Borrowed from the Etruscans, bolstered by the Phoenicians, wine was an integral part of the Roman diet. Bacchus, the god of wine, was toasted at every gathering and festival, a tradition inherited from the Greeks, who drank to the god Dionysus. Under the Romans, wine finally got its due: sophisticated vine-growing techniques, unmatched until the eighteenth century, were developed then, and grape varieties and cultivating techniques were scientifically and accurately documented. Barrels were developed for storing and shipping wine, bottles were used for the first time, and the early developments of an appellation system formed as certain regions gained reputations for fine wine. The Romans adored wine and brought it to every new land they conquered: almost all of the major wine-producing regions of Western Europe today were established by the Romans during their expansion.


The Dark Ages and the Role of the Catholic Church

Once the Roman Empire fell (500 AD), Europe went into a period known as the Dark Ages. The only stable social institution of the time was the Catholic Church, and it encouraged winemaking because of wine’s role in Mass and in other church activities, particularly the Eucharist (wine symbolizing Christ’s blood, bread His body). During the period from 500 to 1400 A.D., Catholic monks became the sole preservers of the Roman Empire’s viticultural legacy. Many centuries’ worth or records detailing rainfall, crop yields, and grape variety enabled the medieval monks to plant the ideal grape varieties in their adjoining regions. However, making medieval wine was dangerous: treading fermenting grapes exposed workers to carbon dioxide, and would often result in suffocation or at the least minor respiratory injury. In the late Middle Ages, as wine’s durability became more important, grape presses, which extracted better juice and reduced the danger to crushers, became more popular.


Renaissance and the Modern times

By the late eighteenth century, the major wine regions were well-established. But just as wine expanded outside the Church and across whole continents, it faced its greatest obstacles.

The French revolution of 1789 had a largely negative impact on wine production: in Burgundy, for example, vineyards were seized from the church and the nobles and turned over to the people. The peasantry, working on small plots and having no prior experience making wine, found themselves unable to grow successfully, and as a result the industry suffered.

In the late 1800s, when Native American wines were brought to France, the phylloxera louse came with them, and devastated countless vineyards in Europe, eventually spreading to other wine-making regions across the world. The solution to the disastrous phylloxera problem was to graft European wines onto American vine roots, which are naturally resistant to the contagious vine malady.

As the Industrial Revolution emerged during the 19th century, technological advances had a great imact on the wine industry. Of special importance was the discovery by French chemist Louis Pasteur, the father of pasteurization, that microorganisms caused wine spoilage. He then went on to lead efforts to control such spoilage in wine, milk, and other beverages at risk of spoiling.

In the beginning of the 20th century, in an effort to establish consistent standards for all of the important aspects of wine production, including region of origin, grape variety, minimum alcohol content, and maximum vineyards yields, Europe’s biggest wine-producers, enacted standardizing laws. France was the first to enact them, with a series of laws beginning in 1905 known as the “Appelation d’Origine Controlee” laws ( A.O.C) that safeguard the famous place-names of France and guarantee that wines bearing their names have met rigorous government standards. In 1936, Italy followed with their own standardizing legislation, “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” (D.O.C) and the “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” (D.O.C.G). Then came Spain with the “Denominacíon de Origen” (D.O.) and Portugual with the “Denominaçao de Origem Controlada” (D.O.C).


United States and California

During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and early seventeenth centuries, as European nations began to explore the world, in every region where the climate and soil were acceptable, wine and the various advances they made in its production traveled along with them. Without success, the French Huguenots first tried to make wine out of the native scuppernong grape in Florida. An attempt at cultivation in the eastern United States was made by settlers in the early 1600s, but the European vines fell as easy prey to the harsh winters and foreign pests. In response, the settlers developed cultivars of some of the native species and eventually created hybrids and Vitis Vinifera.

Spain was more successful in bringing European grapes to Mexico in the 1500s, and thirteen Catholic Franciscan missions, led by Father Junipero Serra, were established in California. In each of their gardens, vines were planted. By 1823, the chain of missions, with their vineyards growing mostly Spanish-borne varieties of grapes, had worked its way up to Sonoma.

On the East Coast, colonial forefathers were more interested in rum, apple cider, beer and whiskey, and only the wealthiest and best educated, like Thomas Jefferson, appreciated and enjoyed the fruit of the vine. Viticulture started to be a real industry in the USA only in the mid 1800s. A frenchman, Jean-Louis Vigne, is said to have established the first commercial vineyard in California sometime in the 1830s. In 1850, the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa, also know as "the Father of California viticulture”, marketed his first Zinfandel. At the same time, Paris was giving increasing recognition to winemakers in the New York Finger Lakes Region and Ohio for their wines made from Native American grape varieties.

Perhaps even more harmful to the cause of wine-producing was the eighteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed alcoholic beverages nationwide from 1919 to 1933. Total grape production did increase during Prohibition years, but only because thousands of acres of wine grapes were uprooted and replaced by table grapes. Only 160 of the 700 wineries that existed in 1920 survived, mostly by making low quality table wines. Up to the 1960ss, the quality of wine within the United States remained, at best, mediocre.

After the Second World War, however, soldiers returning from Europe had a new taste for fine wines. Slowly, the University of California's department of viticulture and enology began to have a stronger influence and started to recommend better wine varieties for various wine regions. Several improvements were made to the winemaking technology (temperature controlled fermentation and methods to better control spoilage). As the quality of wine improved, so did America’s interest in it, and new wineries started to open all over the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.