Wine has a complex and detailed history from its development to the spread of wine production methods throughout the world.
The earliest evidence of wine production comes from an area in Iran called Hajji Firuz Tepe. Here, archeologists discovered the first primitive wine press along with an amphora (a large vase with a narrow neck used primarily to store wine and olive oil) that was layered with the residue of tannin and tartrate crystals, both of which are found in wine. Carbon dating estimates that these artifacts to date back to approximately 5000 B.C.
Wine Spreads through the Ancient World
Soon after the ancient Iranians developed wine, winemaking practices spread to Egypt, where the ancient Egyptians used wine in social and religious practices.
While the Egyptians stored their wine in large vats, they also began perfecting bottling methods. As soon as they refined bottling wine, Egyptian kings started to request to be buried with bottles of wine, presumably so they can have some merriment with friends in the afterlife.
While wine artifacts reveal that both Iranian and Egyptian cultures were among the first to make wine, most wine experts contend that the Phoenicians are responsible for truly popularizing wine. In fact, evidence reveals that the Phoenicians themselves began exporting their wines to Egypt around the year 3000 B.C.
Since the Phoenicians were explorers, they soon discovered that it was necessary to pack wine tightly in resinous wood barrels to preserve it on their long journeys. Barreled up and yet exposed to sea salt, wines developed new, unique flavors, setting a new standard for various types of wines.
As the Phoenicians traversed the world and traded with various peoples, they taught new peoples their winemaking methods, spreading wine production to a number of cultures, including the Greeks.
The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, monks nearly took over wine production, as they ran most of Europe”s vineyards. While today a number of families and corporations also run vineyards and make notable wines, monks still run some of the oldest vineyards throughout Europe.
During this era, France dominated the wine market with its famous vineyards in Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhine Valley. However, the French wines lost their high ground after the Hundred Years War, a long conflict that destroyed the French countryside and, therefore, the grape harvests.
The Industrial Revolution and Science
Although wine has been around for thousands of years, only recently have people been able to fully control the winemaking process, as the science of how wine is made was discovered. Once French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered the link between yeasts and making wine, vineyards around the world could refine and vary their wines.
These scientific discoveries lead to significant advancements in winemaking, such as the creation of sparkling wine. Over 260 years ago, monks Dom Perignon and Dom Thierry Ruinart discovered a second method of fermentation that caused carbon dioxide to develop in the wine, creating sparkling wines. Although most people refer to any sparkling wine as Champagne, this term really refers only to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.
In the 17th century, the Cognacais, or residents of Cognac, invented the process of double distillation. Following their winemaking methods, the Cognac was stored in oak barrels that imbued the alcohol with its unique flavors.
The Effect of Disease on Wine
While winemakers around the world were making significant advancements in wine production methods, there were also setbacks.
One of the primary setbacks occurred in the mid-17th century in Europe and revolved around crop rot caused by a louse known as phylloxera vastatrix, which attacks the roots of the grapevine. During this time, many European vineyards lost many grapevines.
With a lack of European wines on the market, American wines thrived, gaining popularity and notice around the world. Yet, just as the wine industry in other countries suffered from setbacks, so too did the American wine industry. As American wines flooded the national markets, conservatives became uncomfortable at its easy accessibility.
Soon, this discomfort emerged as a full-scale movement that came to be known as Prohibition. During the 13 years in which Prohibition endured (1920 to 1933), winemaking in the United States was virtually halted. Once prohibition was finally lifted, it took the American wine industry several decades to get back on its feet.