Wine is an integral part of history, documented for thousands of years in the daily lives of commoner and king, sinner and Savior and playing a leading role in art (Bacchus by Caravaggio), literature (Homer’s “Odyssey”), music (“Days of Wine & Roses”, Henry Mancini) and religion (Jesus’ miracle at Cana turning water into wine).
So where did winemaking begin and how did it progress through centuries of politics, war and religion, beyond borders and countries, in spite of Emperors and conquerors?
Persian fables say wine was discovered by a Princess who had lost favor with the King, so she tried to poison herself by eating spoiled grapes. Instead of dying, she became drunk, fell asleep and awoke to find she was no longer unhappy (imagine that!) and so she continued eating the fermented fruit. With her new demeanor, thanks to the fruit of the vine, she found favor with the King again, (no surprise) who shared the wine with everyone. And, the rest is history.
Of course, no one knows the true origin of wine, though historians believe that wine consumption dates back as far as 6000BC , and it is speculated that much like the fable of the Princess, the first wine was created quite by accident. Physical evidence dates to 5000BC in Mesopotamia, near modern day Iran, where an archeologist discovered what is believed to be the very beginnings of wine in earthenware jars with red residue, uncovered in a mud-brick structure from 7000 years ago.
In Egypt around 2700BC, wine is known to have been a required staple for a royal trip into the after-life and large jugs of wine accompanied many Pharaohs on their journey to the other side. (This brings new meaning to “jug wine” in ancient history.) Excavations throughout Egypt uncovered tomb paintings depicting winemaking scenes and hieroglyphs of sophisticated vineyard techniques, draping or training vines over trellises and arbors, indicating the pharaohs had their own version of the wine country in the Egyptian Delta.
The Bible contains the earliest written documentation of viniculture where Noah planted vineyards to make wine. (Just think… Noah had a vineyard and a boat. He was doing alright!) Then around 1600BC, Greek civilization advanced wine’s popularity throughout Europe with the help of Greek writer Homer, who provided detailed descriptions of wine such as this excerpt. “Here, too, there was a store of fragrant olive oil, while casks of old, well-ripened wine, unblended and fit for a god to drink, were ranged against the wall in case Ulysses should come home again after all.”
In Italy, the cult of Bacchus evolved as a testament to Rome’s fascination with wine, and eventually, everyone wanted it, so the Romans found a way to export it. In 1st century AD, wine was first exported from the Roman Empire to other European nations prompting many to begin growing grapes themselves. Within 200 years of this first exported vino, France slowly emerged as the dominant force in the world wine market.
However, after the fall of the Roman Empire around 450AD, the Dark Ages almost signaled the end of the reign of wine prosperity, (now we know why they called it dark!)and wine may have disappeared forever if not for the beloved Christian monks.
The monks of St. Benedict order (known as the Benedictines) preserved our beloved wine for Holy Sacrament, and meanwhile cultivated some of the finest vineyards in Europe, establishing the legendary regions of Burgundy, Champagne and the Rheingau with their viticulture efforts. The monks were primarily responsible for the preservation of wine-making (and wine drinking) through the Dark Ages, leading the world into a new era of wine appreciation.
Next month… Part 2 – Wine in the New World