From as early as Biblical times, the idea of wine has been mentioned numerous times – and for thousands of years, wine has been used for ritual, religious, and even health reasons. Today, over 20 billion liters of wine are produced each year globally.
So how did this wine mania evolve?
History of Wine
Origin of Winemaking
The first evidence of wine-making dates back to 6000BC – and specifically in Armenia and Iran.
It was also a significant time where the usual nomad traditions evolved into more stable settlements with homesteads and farming. Their stability also allowed them to experiment with various things – and hence, the experimentation and creation of beer and wine.
The idea of wine extended through thousands of years – all the way to the Ancient Egyptians. There is clear evidence that wine was enjoyed largely by the Pharaohs and elite as it was believed to have divine qualities. But what they consumed was not what we know as wine today.
Their “wine” was not always made from just grapes but included a variety of different fruit.
It was also not just a simple drink. The wine was used as an antiseptic, dressing for wounds, cough syrups, and even sedating women during childbirth.
In a different part of the world, in Ancient Greece, wine was still highly respected and was known as “the juice of gods.” This was clearly exhibited by the fact that large goblets were made from gold and silver purely for the consumption of wine.
Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks disapproved of drinking wine in large quantities – and used it to gain clarity and insight about important matters. They did, however, add different substances to their wine, such as herbs, honey, and even seawater.
During ancient times, Greece was a large trader of wine throughout the world. Legend has it that Roman soldiers would often invade Greek cities before the wine was exported and made with Greek wine and treasures. The Romans eventually planted and produced their own wines. So it is no surprise that Greek wine played a major influence on how Romans produced their own.
Roman Drinking Traditions
Although they diluted their wine heavily with water, it was a Roman tradition to drink copious amounts of wine and become heavily intoxicated. The wine was seen as a necessity and used to show status and wealth. Even slaves were given a certain amount of wine weekly ‘to help keep their strength up.’
Grapes vs Grains
The popularity of wine in the Roman diet was so extreme that many wheat fields were uprooted and replaced with grapevines. Although this meant affordable wine prices – it did lead to a shortage of food. The Romans quickly corrected their mistake and balanced the production of grapes and wheat.
When the Roman Empire collapsed, it was only the Catholic Monks to thank for continuing wine production. With the Monks gaining vast knowledge and skill on wine production, they traveled throughout Europe, spreading their religious traditions, including wine consumption.
It wasn’t long before Monks in Italy and France too became wine experts. In France, the Monks’ privileges concerning the wine and vines were revoked during the French revolution – and rather handed to the working class.
Considering that the vines were now the peasants’ means of survival, France’s wine production grew strong. Wine continued to spread through the world as travelers advanced to different countries – taking their wine along with them.
The New World
The following centuries saw each country being introduced to a different culture and, consequently, a different wine: In Japan in the 16th century, Catholics from Portugal arrived to preach about their religion and introduce them to wine. It wasn’t until a few hundred years later that Japan planted its own vines to start wine production.
During the same time, Spanish missionaries traveled South America and started wineries in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina.
In the 18th Century, when Spanish missionaries arrived in Mexico and California, they established the area’s first winery. A few years later, after a trip to France, Thomas Jefferson fell in love with French wine and returned to America to plant French vines in the Virginia area.
On the other side of the world, a fleet traveled from the UK to South Africa – where they fell in love with South African grapes and took vines across to Australia to plant.
In the early 19th century, a British resident traveled from Australia to New Zealand and planted Australian vines in New Zealand – establishing New Zealand’s first winery.
The 20th Century saw China opening up to the idea of wine and imported their first wine from France.
It gained so much popularity that China is now one of the biggest producers and consumers of wine.
Clearly, each century and each part of the world has its own story about how its wine production started. It is no surprise that each country currently has wine and grapes from all over the world. However, it is quite surprising to learn that this wide variety we have worldwide is largely thanks to religion.