The history of wine can be dated back to the Fertile Crescent of Egypt when our ancestors cultivated grapes. It was likely those grapes fermented on occasion producing alcohol. What a surprise that must have been.
Even though wild grapes grew all over the world, it was this productive Vitis Vinifera species which spread from the Middle East throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe.
Romans loved well-aged wines, sometimes aging it for as long as 25 years according to some Roman writings. Either they perfected the first airtight vessel or they liked oxidized wine. The Romans were the first to use ceramic jugs for storing wine.
It was the Celts of North Central Europe who began using wooden oak barrels, similar to those used today, for storing wine. This rounded in the middle design made them easy to move and roll.
The oak wood allows the wine to “breathe” while still remaining air-tight. The presence of oak in wine, received from this barreling and passed down through the ages, is an important addition to the history of wine.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian monks took over the development of European wines. It is these monks who are responsible for much of wine making history and traditions still practiced in Europe today.
Until the 20th century, fine wine was almost exclusively the domain of Europe. So today a large percentage of the world’s wine vines are of European origin.
Wine Spreads to the New World
European explorers brought their wine – and their vines – with them to the new world. Even though wild grapes flourished on American soil, the European settlers attempted to plant their native Vitis Vinifera species here with limited success.
Those vines that did grow well in the New World were imported by the Spanish and grown in the loose soil of their sunny California missions. These were Southern California’s first European style wines.
Eventually European explorers settling on the east coast made their own wine history by successfully crossing American grape varieties with their European Vitis Vinifera.
Just as the new American wine industry was gaining momentum, anti-alcohol sentiment took hold and nearly ended the history of wine.
Prohibition lasted nearly 14 years, but wine producers found creative ways to remain in business. Wine for cooking, medicinal purposes, and sacramental purposes were still allowed, as was home “fruit juice”. Nevertheless, it took considerable time for the wine industry to recover.
New York and Ohio were the first wine producing states in the new nation until the gold rush brought half a million people to California.
It was the gold rush that proved to the new residents of central California that many grape varieties, including the European variety, could grow beautifully in this rich agricultural region.
The Good Years
Grape growing and wine production became very scientific during the 20th century. Also during this time most countries enacted strict standards for wine production in their regions, with France leading the way and the United States joining them in 1983.
In America, wine drinking became truly in vogue in the mid to late 20th century. By 1970, Americans were drinking over a gallon of wine per person per year.
It was during this time that several recognizable names became popular including Lancer’s, Mateus, Liebfraumilch and White Zinfandel.
California’s reputation for producing first class wines continued to grow, in time beating their French competitors in blind taste testings. Since then Americans penchant for fine wine has only increased.
Their love affair with red wines began with the French Paradox, which concluded that red wine consumption explained why the French suffered fewer heart attacks even though they ate poorly, exercised less and smoked.
The red wine grape that grew most in popularity as a result of the “French Paradox” was Merlot, with its soft, mellow, light tannin appeal. That is until the movie Sideways came out in 2004 and Pinot Noir took over, particularly in the Santa Ynez region of Central California.
And, the history of wine throughout the world will continue to evolve……
(Photos courtesy of Freefoto and Flagstaffoto. Thank you.)