Wine plays an intricate role throughout many aspects of world history and culture. This fascinating role should be of interest to any wine lover.
Throughout time, wine has had a special influence on western culture, a sentiment which is evidenced in the above quote. From its earliest development, wine has had a special place in our customs, diet and social gatherings.
The cultivation of wine exists throughout the entire world. From Greece to the cool Hunter Valley of Australia, wine is produced and enjoyed in large quantities.
The growth of wine’s popularity closely resembles the development of the western world. As the wine trade began to spread throughout the world, western civilization also advanced and grew.
Follow the evolution of wine through the centuries.
Wine’s Growth in Early Europe
1) Around 6000BC In Mesopotamia
2) Around 3000BC-2000BC in Egypt, Phoencia and Greece
3) 1000BC in Sicily and North Africa
4) Spain, Portugal and France in the next 50 years
5) Southern Russia and the Roman Empire
6) Britain and eventually the rest of the western world
Throughout history the health benefits of wine have been researched and discussed.
In ancient times wine was said to bring a higher state of consciousness to its drinkers. Wine has been regarded as a source of comfort and courage as well as a way to lift the spirits of a tired and downtrodden individual. Recently, scientific studies have found examples of medical proof concerning the healthy benefits of drinking wine.
Something know as the “French Paradox” has long astounded individuals around the world. Americans especially wondered why the French, who eat more red meat and smoke more than they do, also suffered from fewer heart attacks. In the 1980s medical studies found that people who consume moderate amounts of red wine are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than non-drinkers or heavy drinkers. These findings led health conscious Americans to ask for red wine more frequently. The Merlot boom in today’s wine industry is the American answer to the “French Paradox.”
The antioxidants in wine have recently been linked to the prevention of heart disease and cancer. These antioxidants have compounds in them that inhibit the formation of cancer cells and reduce the buildup of fat cells in the arteries.
Wine drinkers also seem to have less of a chance of succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia.
Throughout history individuals have preached the digestive powers of wine. Wine can help against bacteria that are responsible for food-related stomach problems.
Wine plays a role in many different religions world-wide.
In Ancient Egypt wine was regarded as a gift from the gods.
Wine was used in funeral rites as well.
Some Pharaohs, such as King Tutankhamen, were given jars of wine in their tombs in order to accompany the royal spirit on its journey to the underworld. The Ancient Persians also shared the belief that wine was a gift from the gods and would make toasts in order to praise those gods.
The Greeks and Romans also gave wine a place in their religious beliefs. The Greek god Dionysus, was thought to promote vegetation and fruitfulness. Wine was said to be a gift to the people from him, and one of his festivals held in late December was for the celebration of the new wine of the vintage. The Romans continued this practice with their god Bacchus. Their devotion to Bacchus led to the development of wine making techniques that continued to be unequaled until the 17th century.
Wine plays a major role in the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian cultures.
Specific amounts of wine must also be drunk at Passover, weddings and circumcisions. Although wine is a strong component of the Jewish faith, the Dionysian idea that intoxication is a higher state of consciousness is rejected.
In Christian ritual wine had a great role. The first miracle of Jesus at Cana occurred when he turned water into wine at a wedding feast, thereby setting the stage for later use of wine in Christian practices. The Christian Eucharist also relates to the consumption of wine. The last supper and the symbolism of Christ’s sacrifice of himself has many interpretations and different rituals. Many of these, including the Catholic mass call for the use of wine in the performance of the Eucharist.
The rise of the Islamic Empire halted the production of wine. Since the consumption of alcohol was prohibited by the Islamic code of law and theology, the development of wine making was almost stopped in a geographic area that stretched from northern India to Spain.
We have evidence of wine production that dates back as far as the early civilizations of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.
The Greeks also celebrated the cultivation of grapes and held many religious festivals to ensure for a good harvest. The study of wine making and grape cultivation played a large part in their everyday life as well.
In more recent history, wars and other destructive events such as fires have called for massive replanting of Europe’s vineyards. These replantings have not only influenced the wine industry, but the agriculture of Europe as well. Smaller vineyards may have lost their method of earning a living and turned to growing other crops. Also, the increase of larger vineyards in both Europe and the New World has caused many individual farmers to stop cultivating grapes and search for other ways to survive financially.
Many environmentalists believe that the fumigation processes used by some of the larger wineries may lead to the destruction of natural plant and animal life. This problem is currently being researched by many farmers and environmental activists alike.
Perhaps the most famous example of wine’s agricultural impact on the world is illustrated by the Phylloxera outbreak in the late 1800s. When this disease first struck, winegrowers tried to halt it through the use of fumigation.
This fumigation did not solve the problem, since it caused the deaths of too many vines as well as workers. By the time agriculturalists discovered that grafting Old World vines onto New World plants halted the spread of Phylloxera, many French vineyards had been lost. Since that time, Rioja in Spain has produced many of the world’s finest wines, turning a tragedy into something positive.
In 1996 many of the California vines were destroyed by a new strain of Phylloxera. There is hope that the combined efforts of these two groups will discover a way to halt Phylloxera in the near future.
In the Name
of the Vine
Throughout history certain scientific advances have directly influenced the production of wine. Without many of these developments, wine as we know it would not exist.
Certain technological advances in the wine industry, like the invention of Champagne, were brought about by a single individual.
Three major accomplishments that greatly influenced the growth of wine as a world-wide industry are; improved botttlemaking, accessories such as the cork and corkscrew, and finally, the discovery of Champagne.
Wine plays a major role in today’s modern societies, and it is important to remember that this role would not have been possible without the advances of science over the centuries.
Today wine is produced world-wide, but several areas are of special interest.These regions are as follows: Eastern United States, California Australia, Chile, South America, South Africa and France.
Weather patterns differ every growing season, but the general climate of a region is quite stable. Viticulturists depend on the stability, but some will look for opportunities to refine their product based on the weather.
Wineries under expansion use the microclimates within their region strategically as they plant and cultivate new crops. In hilly areas, such as Northern California, the climate can differ from one patch of land to the next. This allows a single winery to produce many different varieties of the same wine. Subtle flavour variations will develop as a result of the characteristics of the specific microclimate.
The overall climate of a region will also influences crop productivity. Although it is possible to produce quality wines in hot lands, or those with insuficient sunshine, viticulturists prefer a region with a balance between these two extremes.
In stable climate the predictability of the weather allows individual producers to closely monitor the development of young grapes, so they can best decide when to harvest them.
The climate of a region is only one factor in the physical complexities that influence the successful production of wine. The following topics explain some of these areas.
Weather is said to be the great unknown factor in wine production. As individual weather patterns vary from year to year, so too does the production quality of the wine. Too much sun may cause the grapes to ripen too quickly. Too much rain can hinder the growing process and make it difficult for workers to tend the vines.
By watching the year’s weather fluctuations, vineyards hope to harvest their grapes when they have attained the same level of ripeness. This gives the vintage a consistency in flavour that many wine consumers find appealing.
Sudden changes in weather may force growers to harvest sooner than normal, causing the year’s vintage to suffer in quality. some growers have begun to use fungicides to ward off rot, but many traditionalists believe that these chemicals have an adverse affect on the vines and the wine they yield.
Good Soil for Grapes
The hardy grapevine tends to flourish on rocky, gravel-covered hillsides. The ability of vines to dig up to ten feet with their roots in search of water and nutrients negates the need for irrigation. This enables vineyards to develop where many other crops would fail, and reduces labour costs. However, no vine can thrive in bad soil.
Soil is perhaps the most examined factor in the production of wine, being easier to predict, control, and monitor than weather.
In French vineyards, for example, the import of soil from outside sources into their estates is prohibited. These wine makers do not wish to lose the individual character that helps ensure their distinct qualities and flavours.
In a very restricitve sense, the French word terroir may be translated to soil. However the word’s true meaning extends beyond the chemistry and moisture of the soil.
The degree of slope where vines are planted is an element of a vineyard’s terroir. If it drains too quickly or not enough, then a harvest may be ruined. Whether a slope relfects sunlight or absorbs heat is also a factor of terroir.
The land’s orientation to the sun and its degree of shelter from wind and sun contribute to the terroir of a vineyard.
Different grapes also thrive in different types of soil. Chardonnay performs well in lands that have a high content of chalk and limestone. The red grapes Grenache and Syrah reach a peak level of ripeness in the southern Rhone Valley. The white rocks of this region reflect heat toward the vines allowing them to develop a flavour unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Not all vintners agree that terrior plays a major role in the quality of a vintage. Connoisseurs outside of France, in particular, put more stock in kill and experience than in geology and soil composition.