Wine in World History and Culture

History of wine

The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production yet found has been at sites inGeorgia (c. 6000 BC),[1][2] Iran (c. 5000 BC),[3] Greece (c. 4500 BC) and Armenia (c. 4100BC),[4][5][6][7][8] where the oldest winery to date was uncovered.

The altered consciousness produced by wine has been considered religious since its origin. The Greeks worshiped Dionysus and Bacchus and the Romans carried on his cult.[9][10]Consumption of ritual wine was part of Jewish practice since Biblical times and, as part of theeucharist commemorating Jesus's Last Supper, became even more essential to the Christian Church. Although Islam nominally forbade the production or consumption of wine, during itsGolden Age, alchemists such as Geber pioneered wine's distillation for medicinal and industrial purposes such as the production of perfume.[11] The Turkic Uyghurs were even responsible for reïntroducing viticulture to China from the Tang dynasty onwards.

Wine production and consumption increased, burgeoning from the 15th century onwards as part of European expansion. Despite the devastating 1887 phylloxera louse infestation, modern science and technology adapted and industrial wine production and wine consumption now occur throughout the world.



Ancient Rome and wine

Ancient Rome played a pivotal role in the history of wine. The earliest influences on the viticulture of the Italian peninsula can be traced to ancient Greeks and the Etruscans. The rise of the Roman Empiresaw both technological advances in and burgeoning awareness of winemaking, which spread to all parts of the empire. Rome's influence has had a profound effect on the histories of today's major winemaking regions in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The Roman belief that wine was a daily necessity made the drink "democratic" and ubiquitous: winewas available to slaves, peasants, women and aristocrats alike. To ensure the steady supply of wine to Roman soldiers and colonists, viticulture and wine production spread to every part of the empire. The economic opportunities presented by trading in wine drew merchants to do business with tribes native to Gaul and Germania, bringing Roman influences to these regions even before the arrival of the Roman military.[1]

The works of Roman writers—most notably Cato, Columella, Horace, Palladius, Pliny, Varro and Virgil—have provided insight into the role played by wine in Roman culture as well as contemporary understanding of winemaking and viticultural practices. Many of the techniques and principles first developed in ancient Roman times can be found in modern winemaking.[2]


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Early history

Though wild grapevines have grown on the Italian peninsula since prehistory, historians are unable to determine precisely when domestic viticulture and winemaking first occurred. It is possible that theMycenaean Greeks had some influences through early settlements in southern Italy, but the earliest recorded evidence of Greek influence dates to 800 BC. Viticulture was widely entrenched in Etruscan civilization, which was centered around the modern winemaking region of Tuscany.

Because the ancient Greeks saw wine as a staple of domestic life and a viable economic trade commodity, their settlements were encouraged to plant vineyards for local use and trade with the Greek city-states. Southern Italy's abundance of indigenous vines provided an ideal opportunity for wine production, giving rise to the Greek name for the region: Oenotria ("land of vines").[3]

As Rome grew from a collection of settlements to a kingdom and then to a republic, the culture of Roman winemaking was increasingly influenced by the viticultural skills and techniques of the regions that were conquered and integrated into the Roman Empire, which once, was almost completely dry.[4] The Greek settlements of southern Italy were completely under Roman control by 270 BC. The Etruscans, who had already established trade routes into Gaul, were completely conquered by the 1st century BC.

The Punic Wars with Carthage had a particularly marked effect on Roman viticulture. In addition to broadening the cultural horizons of the Roman citizenry, Carthaginians also introduced them to advanced viticultural techniques, in particular the work of Mago. When the libraries of Carthage were ransacked and burned, among the few Carthaginian works to survive were the 26 volumes of Mago's agricultural treatise, which was subsequently translated into Latin and Greek in 146 BC. Although his work did not survive to the modern era, it has been extensively quoted in the influential writings of Romans Pliny, Columella, Varro and Gargilius Martialis.[3]

Golden age

For most of Rome's winemaking history, Greek wine was the most highly prized, with domestic Roman wine commanding lower prices. The 2nd century BC saw the dawn the "golden age" of Roman winemaking and the development of grand cru vineyards (a type of early first growths in Rome). The famous vintage of 121 BC became known as the Opimian vintage, named for consul Lucius Opimius. Remarkable for its abundantharvest and the unusually high quality of wine produced, some of the vintage's best examples were being enjoyed over a century later.

Pliny the Elder wrote extensively about the first growths of Rome—most notably Falernian, Alban and Caecuban wines. Other first-growth vineyards included Rhaeticum and Hadrianum, along the Po river in what are now the modern-day regions of Lombardy and Venice respectively; Praetutium (not related to the modern Italian city of Teramo, historically known as Praetutium) along the Adriatic coast near the border of Emilia-Romagna and Marche; and Lunense in modern-day Tuscany. Around Rome itself were the estates of Alban, Sabinum, Tiburtinum, Setinum and Signinum. Southward to Naples were the estates of Caecuban, Falernian, Caulinum, Trebellicanum, Massicum, Gauranium, and Surrentinum. In Sicily was the first-growth estate of Mamertinum.[3]

At this high point in the empire's history of wine, it was estimated that Rome was consuming over 180 million litres (47 million US gallons) of wine annually, about a bottle of wine each day for every citizen.[1]



A fresco depicting Mercury (god of commerce) and Bacchus (god of wine) in Pompeii, in a hot-food establishment (thermopolium) that served the city prior to its destruction.




One of the most important wine centres of the Roman world was the city of Pompeii, located south of Naples. The area was home to a vast expanse of vineyards, serving as an important trading city with Roman provinces abroad and the principal source of wine for the city of Rome.

The Pompeians themselves developed a widespread reputation for their wine-drinking capacity. The prevalent worship of Bacchus, the god of wine, left depictions of the god on frescoes and archaeological fragments throughout the region. Amphoras stamped with the emblems of Pompeian merchants have been found across the modern-day remnants of the Roman empire, includingBordeaux, Narbonne, Toulouse and Spain. Evidence in the form of counterfeit stamps on amphoras of non-Pompeian wine suggests that its popularity and notoriety may have given rise to early wine fraud.[5]

The 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius had a devastating effect on the Roman wine industry. Vineyards across the region and warehouses storing the recent 78 AD vintage were decimated, resulting in a dramatic shortage of wine. The damage to the trading port hindered the flow of wine from Rome's outlying provinces, aggravating its scarcity. Available wine rose sharply in price, making it unaffordable to all but the most affluent. The wine famine caused panicking Romans to hurriedly plant vineyards in the areas near Rome, to such an extent that grain fields were uprooted in favor of grapevines.

The subsequent wine surplus created by successful efforts to relieve the wine shortage caused a depression in price, hurting the commercial entrance of wine producers and traders. The uprooting of grain fields now contributed to a food shortage for the growing Roman population. In 92 AD, Roman Emperor Domitian issued an edict that not only banned new vineyards in Rome but ordered the uprooting of half of the vineyards in Roman provinces.

Although there is evidence to suggest that this edict was largely ignored in the Roman provinces, wine historians have debated the effect of the edict on the infant wine industries of Spain and Gaul. The intent of the edict was that fewer vineyards would result in only enough wine for domestic consumption, with sparse amount for trade. While vineyards were already established in these growing wine regions, the ignoring of trade considerations may have suppressed the spread of viticulture and winemaking in these areas. Domitian's edict remained in effect for nearly two centuries until Emperor Probus repealed the measure in 280 AD.[5]


Expansion of viticulture

Among the lasting legacies of the ancient Roman empire were the viticultural foundations laid by the Romans in lands that would become world-renowned wine regions. Through trade, military campaigns and settlements, Romans brought with them a taste for wine and the impetus to plant vines. Trade was the first and farthest-reaching arm of their influence, and Roman wine merchants were eager to trade with enemy and ally alike—from the Carthaginians and peoples of southern Spain to the Celtic tribes in Gaul and Germanic tribes of the Rhine and Danube.

During the Gallic Wars, when Julius Caesar brought his troops to Cabyllona in 59 BC, he found two Roman wine merchants already established in business trading with the local tribes. In places like Bordeaux, Trier and Colchester where Roman garrisons were established, vineyards were planted to supply local need and limit the cost of long-distance trading. Roman settlements were founded and populated by retired soldiers with knowledge of Roman viticulture from their families and life before the military; vineyards were planted in their new homelands. While it is possible that the Romans imported grapevines from Italy and Greece, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that they cultivated native vines that may be the ancestors of the grapes grown in those provinces today.[6]

The Italian peninsula was known for its high-quality wines, outstanding examples of which included those of Pompeii.[7] As the republic grew into empire beyond the peninsula, wine's trade and market economy echoed this growth. The wine trade in Italy consisted of Rome's sale of wine abroad to settlements and provinces around the Mediterranean Sea, yet by the end of the 1st century AD, its exports had competition from the provinces, themselves exporters to Rome.[8] The Roman market economy encouraged the provinces’ exports, enhancing supply and demand.[9] An elevated supply of wine meant lower prices for consumers. Because of the supply-and-demand economy, citizens possessed an ample supply of coinage, suggesting the existence of a complex market economy surrounding the wine trade of the Roman Empire. Adequate monetary supply meant that the citizenry put a great deal of thought into the market economy of wine.[10]


Roman winemaking

The process of making wine in ancient Rome began immediately after the harvest with treading the grapes (often by foot), in a manner similar to the French pigeage. The juice thus expressed was the most highly prized and kept separate from what would later come from pressing the grape.[2] This free-run juice was also believed to have the most beneficial medicinal properties.[1]

Cato described the process of pressing as taking place in a special room that included an elevatedconcrete platform containing a shallow basin with raised curbs. The basin was shaped with gentle slopes that led to a runoff point. Horizontally across the basin were long, wooden beams whose front parts were attached by rope to a windlass. The crushed grapes were placed between the beams, with pressure applied by winding down the windlass. The pressed juice ran down between the beams and collected in the basin. As the construction and use of a wine press was labor-intensive and expensive, its use was generally restricted to large estates, with smaller wineries relying on treading alone to obtain grape juice.[27]

If grape pressing was used, an estate would press the skins one to three times. Since juice from later pressings would be coarser and more tannic, the third pressing normally made wine of low quality calledlora. After pressing, the grape must was stored in large earthenware jars known as dolia. With a capacity of up to several thousand liters, these jars were often partially buried into the floors of a barn or warehouse. Fermentation took place in the dolium, lasting from two weeks to a month before the wine was removed and put in amphoras for storage. Small holes drilled into the top allowed the carbon dioxide gas to escape.[1]

To enhance flavor, white wine might age on its lees, and chalk or marble dust was sometimes added to reduce acidity.[2] Wines were often exposed to high temperatures and "baked," a process similar to that used to make modern Madeira. To enhance a wine's sweetness, a portion of the wine must was boiled to concentrate the sugars in the process known as defrutum and then added to the rest of the fermenting batch. (Columella's writings suggest that the Romans believed boiling the must acted as a preservative as well.) Lead was also sometimes used as a sweetening agent,[3] but honey could also be added, as much as 3 kilograms (6.6 lb) recommended to sufficiently sweeten 12 litres (3.2 US gal) of wine to Roman tastes. Another technique was to withhold a portion of the sweeter, unfermented must and blend it with the finished wine, a method known today as süssreserve.[19]


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