Wine is one of the truly universal beverages that not only crosses cultural distinctions but also serves an important role in religious rites and social circles all over the world. In fact, since its discovery, wine has had a tremendous impact on a number of different societies.

Here is a look at the impact of wine throughout the centuries.

Wine’s Beginnings

Archeologists have found evidence that wine drinking began in 4000 B.C., possibly even as early as 6000 B.C. However, because winemaking methods were still being refined, wine wasn”t widely consumed during this time period.

By looking at evidence, anthropologists have concluded that wine was first developed around the Fertile Crescent area, by the Caspian Sea in Mesopotamia, which is near present-day Iran.

Wine in Ancient Egypt

Wine began to penetrate other cultures as Egyptians started cultivating wine grapes and learning winemaking practices. In fact, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in the tombs of the dead depict that wine was a significant part of ancient Egyptian culture as early as 2700 B.C. During this time, the Egyptians grew grapes now known as the Muscat grape of Alexandria, stomping and fermenting them in large vats.

While generally only the wealthiest Egyptians, such as pharaohs, were able to enjoy wine, wine was widely available at religious ceremonies, namely during funerary rituals for the god Osiris, the Egyptian deity for death, life and fertility.

Greco-Roman Civilization and Wine

The Phoenicians, masters of seafaring, were likely the people who spread winemaking from the Middle East and Egypt to the Greek civilizations.

Making wine in Greece is believed to have begun around 1600 B.C. Along with being used in social and religious circles, the Greeks also used wine for medicinal purposes. Specifically, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, prescribed it to his patients.

Wine experts attribute the Romans with developing wine culture as we know it today. For example, the Romans started the practice of classifying wine by colors and grape varieties. By the first century, wine was being exported from Rome to Spain, Germany, England and early France.

As these countries eventually developed their own vineyards and wine regions, they forbade the import of French wines to eliminate competition and bolster support of the local wines.

Wine in the Middle Ages

Over the centuries, France came to rule the wine market with its fine wine from vineyards in Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhine Valley. Because monks were the primary winemakers in France, wine once again assumed an important role in religious ceremonies, such as the sacrament of communion.

While wine production and consumption flourished throughout Europe, it came to a sharp halt in the Middle East and Africa. Specifically, regions under Muslim control (such as Southern Spain, North Africa and North India) ceased any wine production due to the fact that it was forbidden by Islamic codes.

In time, French wines also took a hit. Although England was the principal customer of Bordeaux by 1152, after the Hundred Years War during which France successfully expelled the English (with the exception that the English still occupied the French territory known as Calais), the French countryside was destroyed, significantly halting wine production.

Wine Expansion to the New World

As Europeans began to explore and colonize the world, they brought wine to the Americas and South Africa. However, although European explorers introduced Native Americans and South Africans to wine, attempts to plant European vines along the North American coasts, specifically in the Mississippi valleys, failed.

Grape cultivation for wine didn”t take off in the Americas until Father Junipero Serra planted the first vineyard in Mission San Diego. As he traveled up the California coastline and started eight more missions, he brought his winemaking methods and knowledge with him, teaching it to the Native Americans along the way. Known as the Father of California wine, Father Junipero Serra developed the famous mission grape that dominated Californian wines until 1880.

Wine Disease

During the mid-17th century, a series of grapes from the Americas were brought to England to cultivate. However, these cuttings carried a harmful louse called phylloxera vastatrix that attacks the grapevine”s roots and leaves.

In the next two decades that followed, this phylloxera spread to the European vineyards and destroyed many grapevines. As a result, many European vineyards were forced to replant many of their grape harvests. In the absence of European wines, the American wine industry came into its own and flourished.

Wine in Modern Times: Science and Wine

While countries all over the world had their own unique winemaking methods in early times, the actual science of how wine is made was not yet really understood. In fact, it wasn”t until famed French chemist Louis Pasteur examined wine molecules on a microscopic level that people began to understand the chemistry behind wine production.

Once people understood the science of wine, winemakers were able to not only improve their existing wines but also to create new varieties of wine. For example, winemakers began tinkering with yeast properties and the fermentation process, making notable advancements in both red wine and white wines.

Wine during the Prohibition Era

Although the American wine industry started off strong, it soon came to hard times, much like the wine industries in other countries had in years past. While the Industrial Revolution led to large-scale brewing and mass-marketing, the fast invasion of wine culture scared conservatives, leading to the Prohibition Era, a time during which making and consuming alcohol was prohibited by the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which was passed in 1917.

In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th and thereby lifted prohibition. However, the U.S. wine industry (along with other alcohol industries) took a few decades to get back on its feet.

 Posted on : May 15, 2014