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History of Winemaking: Origin of Wine (2024 Best Edition)

History of Winemaking

The history of winemaking is well-documented in different cultures, but it is believed to be around as early as 7000 BC. 

Winemaking has spread worldwide, and its rich history has been a great foundation for modern wines. 

Let’s go over the wine production history and how it differs in several cultures. 

History of Winemaking

getting wine on a barrel

Fermenting fruit and consuming it as an alcoholic beverage has been around since ancient times, and there are several accounts of how it started in several cultures. 

The archaeological pieces of evidence of winemaking are grape processing and domesticated stocks. 

The use of grapes for wine began in China, and it was supported by the archaeological evidence on pottery shards dated around 7000-6600 BCE, wherein wine is made from fruit, rice, and honey. 

Major wine producers in Western Europe were established during the Roman Era. Barrels and bottles were invented, and Catholic Church preserved winemaking for mass. 

But What Changed?

However, over the last 200 years, our understanding of wine and the winemaking process has changed. Louis Pasteur figured out that yeast turns fruit sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, revealing the method behind winemaking. He also discovered that bacteria would turn wine into vinegar. 

With this knowledge and many breakthroughs during the industrial revolution, winemakers went from hoping for the best to actually understanding the wine fermentation process. 

During the second half of the 20th century, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the U.S., and a few other countries introduced regulations for quality control. The abbreviations you see on wine bottles, i.e., DOCG, AOC, and AVA, specify the place, quality, and composition of wine (to some extent).

Today, winemaking has almost become a vineyard-to-door wine process. With the help of monthly wine club subscriptions, you can taste various wines worldwide without ever leaving your home. 

Let’s Take A Closer Look

Ancient Winemaking

Before the spread of winemaking in various places, ancient winemaking began in China in 7000 BC. 

It was 6000 BC when scholars found the earliest evidence of winemaking in Georgia and 5000 BC in Iran. 

There was also evidence of winemaking in Sicily from 4000 BC, and the steady production of wine was in Armenia from 4100 BC, where you can find the earliest winery.  

Vintners will crush grapes using their feet and collect the juices in a vat to ferment. The evidence of winemaking shows that grapes are domesticated to allow large-scale production. 

There were ancient legends of winemaking where a woman contemplated suicide in a barrel of fermented grapes, but instead, she experienced intoxication. 

The King then decreed all grapes for winemaking. 

Read: Popular Napa Wine Clubs

Chinese Wines

hand pressing grapes for wine making

Both ancient Rome and Greece were known for their love of wine, but it all began in China. 

2000 years before Europeans decided to make wine, China had been making drinks out of fermented honey, rice, and fruit. 

Scholars have recognized the residues on pottery shards around 7000-6600 BCE at Jiahu for early winemaking. 

Also, there was textual evidence of using grapes in the Zhou Dynasty 1046-221 BCE. The grapes used may be wild grapes native to China and not from Western Asia. 

The European grapes were introduced during the second century BCE along with Silk road imports. 

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Mediterranean & European Wines

Modern wine practices were derived from Ancient Greece, contributing to Greece’s economy as the alcohol demand increased. 

In Rome, wine is an important part of their culture, and winemakers established most areas in Rome for producing wine during the Roman Era. 

As the Roman empire fell, the Catholic Church continuously preserved winemaking as an integral part of their religious practices.  

Modern Winemaking

wine equipment

Winemaking has spread worldwide, and Western European countries and America dominated it. 

Machines became commonplace on every winemaking step, from grape picking to bottling. 

These countries use specific grapes for specific wines, and there are appellation systems to categorize wine. 

The process is almost similar, but it is more advanced and done on a larger scale. 

Crushing of grapes with feet was replaced with a mechanical crusher, and winemakers used brewer’s yeast instead of the naturally-occurring yeasts in grapes. 

Read: Top-Rated Wines In New Zealand

Who First Invented Wine? 

Based on National Geographic, the people living at Gadachrili Gora are the world’s earliest known vintners [1]. They produced wine on a larger scale in 6000 BC. 

Prehistoric humans are reliant on bone tools and stone. There were also remnants of tartaric acid and fingerprints that showed wine residues on pottery fragments. 

“They were pressing it in cooler environments, fermenting it… transporting it to the villages when it was ready to drink.”

– Stephen Batiuk, Archaeologist

What are the 4 Stages of Winemaking? 

pouring wine in a glass

Winemaking during ancient times and today may not be that similar, but thanks to the advancement of technology, many have continuously enjoyed wine. 

The stages of winemaking are as follows: (1) harvesting, (2) crushing and pressing, (3) fermentation and clarification, and (4) aging and bottling. 

While there are traditional winemakers, some wineries, especially the larger ones, tend to use automated processes for faster and more consistent sweet and dry wine production. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the oldest known wine?

The quest for the oldest known wine takes us back through the annals of history, weaving through ancient civilizations and the evolution of human culture. Wine has been an integral part of human civilization for millennia, with its origins tracing back to the dawn of agriculture and the domestication of grapes.

One of the oldest known examples of wine dates back approximately 6,000 years ago and was discovered in ceramic jars in the ancient Iranian village of Hajji Firuz Tepe. This ancient wine, unearthed by archaeologists, provides a tantalizing glimpse into the early days of winemaking and the pivotal role it played in the development of human society.

Throughout antiquity, winemaking flourished in regions such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, where it was revered for its cultural, religious, and medicinal significance. The ancient Greeks and Romans, in particular, celebrated wine as a symbol of prosperity, pleasure, and divine inspiration, crafting exquisite amphorae and vessels to store and transport their prized vintages.

As centuries passed, winemaking techniques evolved, spreading across continents and influencing cultures far and wide. Today, the legacy of ancient winemaking lives on in the vineyards and cellars of modern wine producers, who continue to draw inspiration from age-old traditions while embracing innovation and technology.

Can you drink a 100-year-old wine?

In theory, it is possible to drink a 100-year-old wine, but whether it is enjoyable or even safe to do so depends on various factors, including how the wine has been stored and its specific characteristics.

Proper storage conditions are essential for preserving the quality and drinkability of wine over extended periods. Wines that have been stored in cool, dark cellars with stable temperatures and adequate humidity levels have the best chance of aging gracefully. However, fluctuations in temperature, exposure to light, and improper storage conditions can accelerate the aging process and lead to spoilage or deterioration of the wine.

Even if a wine has been stored impeccably, there is no guarantee that it will be palatable after 100 years. Over time, wines undergo complex chemical changes that can affect their flavor, aroma, and overall balance. Some wines may develop desirable qualities such as increased complexity, depth, and nuance, while others may become oxidized, vinegar-like, or otherwise unpleasant to drink.

For collectors and enthusiasts, tasting a 100-year-old wine can be a rare and extraordinary experience, offering a connection to the past and an opportunity to appreciate the history and craftsmanship behind the wine. However, it is essential to approach such wines with caution and to assess their condition carefully before consuming them.

Was any wine recovered from the Titanic?

Yes, several bottles of wine were recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 after hitting an iceberg. The wine bottles were among the numerous artifacts retrieved from the ship’s debris field during salvage operations conducted over the years.

One of the most notable recoveries was a case of Champagne labeled as Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top, which was found in the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985. The Champagne, produced by the French Champagne house Heidsieck & Co., was remarkably well-preserved despite spending over 70 years at the bottom of the ocean. In subsequent years, some of the recovered bottles were auctioned off, commanding high prices from collectors and enthusiasts eager to own a piece of history.

In addition to Champagne, other wines and spirits have also been recovered from the Titanic, including bottles of Bordeaux wine, Scotch whisky, and brandy. These artifacts offer a poignant reminder of the tragic events surrounding the Titanic’s sinking and provide insight into the luxurious amenities and provisions aboard the ill-fated ship.

What is the oldest bottle of wine today?

The oldest bottle of wine still intact today is believed to be the Speyer wine bottle, also known as the Römerwein, which dates back to the 4th century AD. Discovered in 1867 during excavations of a Roman nobleman’s tomb near the city of Speyer in present-day Germany, the bottle contained remnants of a liquid that chemical analysis confirmed to be wine. The Speyer wine bottle is now housed in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, where it serves as a fascinating artifact of ancient winemaking and preservation techniques.

While the Speyer wine bottle holds the title of the oldest intact wine container, it is worth noting that other archaeological discoveries, such as wine amphorae and vessels, provide evidence of winemaking practices dating back thousands of years. These artifacts offer valuable insights into the ancient origins of wine and its significance in human history.

What is the oldest winery in the world? 

The title of the oldest winery in the world is often attributed to the Areni-1 winery complex, located in the village of Areni in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia. Dating back to around 4100 BC, the Areni-1 winery represents one of the earliest known examples of organized winemaking in human history.

Excavations at the site revealed a series of interconnected chambers and vats carved into the rocky terrain, along with grape seeds, grape skins, and fermentation residues that provided evidence of winemaking activities. Chemical analysis of pottery fragments found at the site confirmed the presence of tartaric acid, a compound associated with grape fermentation, further corroborating the winemaking capabilities of the ancient inhabitants of Areni.

The discovery of the Areni-1 winery complex sheds light on the sophisticated winemaking techniques employed by ancient civilizations and underscores the significance of wine in cultural, religious, and social contexts.

How Did Winemaking Develop Over Time?

The history of winemaking is a tale of innovation, experimentation, and cultural exchange that spans thousands of years and traverses continents. From its humble origins in ancient Mesopotamia to its global prominence today, winemaking has evolved through a series of transformative developments and technological advancements.

In ancient times, winemaking began as a simple process of fermenting crushed grapes in earthenware vessels or amphorae, relying on natural yeasts present in the environment to initiate fermentation. Over time, early winemakers refined their techniques, experimenting with different grape varieties, fermentation vessels, and storage methods to improve the quality and stability of their wines.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans played significant roles in advancing winemaking practices, developing tools such as wine presses and fermentation containers, as well as establishing trade routes that facilitated the exchange of grapes, wines, and winemaking knowledge across the Mediterranean region.

During the Middle Ages, monastic orders in Europe became centers of winemaking innovation, preserving and expanding upon the traditions inherited from antiquity. Monks meticulously tended vineyards, cultivated grape varieties suited to local terroirs, and documented their winemaking techniques in illuminated manuscripts, contributing to the preservation and dissemination of viticultural knowledge.

In the modern era, technological advancements such as temperature-controlled fermentation, stainless steel tanks, and mechanized harvesting have revolutionized winemaking, enabling producers to achieve greater precision, consistency, and efficiency in their practices. Globalization and scientific research have further propelled the evolution of winemaking, fostering cross-cultural exchange, experimentation with new grape varieties, and the emergence of diverse wine styles and regions.

Today, winemaking continues to evolve as producers embrace sustainability, innovation, and terroir-driven approaches to create wines that reflect their unique origins and philosophies. From ancient traditions to contemporary practices, the journey of winemaking is a testament to human ingenuity and the enduring allure of this timeless craft.

What Role Did Ancient Civilizations Play in Advancing Winemaking?

Ancient civilizations played a pivotal role in the advancement of winemaking, laying the foundation for the viticultural practices and winemaking techniques that continue to shape the industry today. Among the key contributions of ancient civilizations to winemaking are:

Domestication of Grapevines: Ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Phoenicians were among the first to cultivate grapevines for winemaking purposes. They recognized the potential of wild grapevines and selectively bred them to develop cultivated varieties suitable for wine production.

Development of Viticultural Practices: Ancient winemakers developed techniques for pruning, trellising, and irrigation to optimize grape yields and quality. They also observed the influence of terroir on grapevine growth and wine characteristics, leading to the identification of optimal growing regions and microclimates.

Wine Production and Trade: Ancient civilizations established wine production facilities, including wineries and vineyards, to produce wine on a large scale. They also developed trade networks to exchange wine and other goods with neighboring regions, facilitating the spread of viticultural knowledge and grape varieties.

Innovations in Winemaking Techniques: Ancient winemakers experimented with various winemaking techniques, such as grape crushing, fermentation, and aging, to improve the quality and stability of their wines. They discovered the importance of hygiene, temperature control, and proper storage conditions in preventing spoilage and enhancing wine flavor.

Overall, the contributions of ancient civilizations laid the groundwork for the development of winemaking as a sophisticated and influential cultural practice, shaping the traditions and techniques that continue to define the wine industry today.

How Did Monks and Religious Orders Contribute to the History of Winemaking?

Monks and religious orders played a pivotal role in preserving winemaking knowledge during the Middle Ages, particularly in European regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne. Monasteries served as centers of viticulture and winemaking innovation, leading to advancements in grape cultivation and wine production techniques.

What Were Some Key Technological Advances in Winemaking Throughout History?

Key technological advances in winemaking throughout history include the invention of the wine press, development of barrel aging, introduction of glass bottles and corks for storage, refinement of fermentation methods, and adoption of scientific principles in viticulture and enology.

How Did Winemaking Spread to Different Parts of the World?

Winemaking spread to different parts of the world through trade, exploration, and colonization, as well as migration of grapevines and winemaking knowledge.

European settlers introduced viticulture to regions such as North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand, leading to the establishment of thriving wine industries.

What Role Did Prohibition Play in the History of Winemaking?

Prohibition in the early 20th century in countries like the United States and Canada had a profound impact on the wine industry, leading to the decline of vineyard acreage, closure of wineries, and illegal production of wine.

However, Prohibition also spurred innovations in winemaking technology and marketing strategies.

Final Thoughts 

Winemaking has been a part of the world’s economy since ancient times and has helped spread ideas and cultures. 

The rich history of winemaking way back to 7000 BC has reached modern winemaking, where humble grapes turned into incredible wines. 

While most distilleries no longer use traditional wine production, we owe the ancient vintners the bottles of wine we enjoy today. 

References:

  1. Oldest Evidence of Winemaking Discovered at 8,000-Year-Old Village
  2. You Can (Probably) Still Drink the World’s Oldest Bottle of Wine
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