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Wine History
arrow Main arrow History arrow Before You Taste arrow Tasting arrow Wine Making
arrow Grapes arrow Food Pairing arrow Events arrow Column arrow Glossary
The origin of wine is believed to have occurred during the Neolithic period around 6000 BC near ancient Mesopotamia. An archaeologist from the College of William and Mary by the name of Mary Voigt found several clay jars in the Zagros Mountains in northern Iran that contained a residue that was later analyzed to contain presence of tartaric acid. Large quantities of this acid are generally only found in grapes. There was also resin from the terebinth tree found in the jars, which acts as a wine preservative. This provided further evidence of the first documented record of ancient winemaking.
The practice of winemaking spread throughout the Middle East region and eastward into Egypt and Greece, where wine played an integral role in cultural traditions. While wine grapes were most likely not native to Ancient Egypt, wine may have been imported from Mesopotamia and Persia. The walls of tombs and stone tablets contain references to winemaking where wine was thought to carry special significance for the afterlife. In Ancient Greece, wine is celebrated in many literary works of the famous tragedians, poets, and historians. The first references of wine are scattered throughout Homerís epic poems, the Odyssey and the Illiad. It was generally considered only a privilege to the upper class and played a significant role in religious ceremonies in the form of deity worship. The Greek god Dionysius symbolized the social influence and intoxicating power of wine. The Greeks learned to add herbs and spices to prevent spoilage and were known to have prized sweet wines, much like today in modern Greece.
With the fall of Athens to Rome near the turn of the millennium, viticulture spread to the Romans as an integral part of their culture. As the Roman Empire spread throughout Europe, so to did the production of wine, even as far north as Britain. It became a custom for the masses rather than solely for the privileged classes. Like the Greeks, the Romans preferred sweet, flavored wine. They generally never drank wine in its dry, original taste, opting instead to add flavors such as mint, pepper, rose petal, and garlic. The Romans also developed advanced methods of wine storage by utilizing wooden cooperage rather than skins and jars, which was commonly used before.
The popularity of wine in the pagan cultures of Greece and Roman continued in other parts of Europe as part of Christian tradition. By the 5th century, the Church became the primary producer of wine and it was preserved through sacramental usage. In the 8th century AD, the Emperor Charlemagne helped keep the art of winemaking an integral part of society. He imparted stricter regulations on how wine was produced by eliminating the stomping of grapes by foot and storing in animal skins. As the world entered into the Dark Ages, France became a dominant player in the world wine market. Christian monasteries began establishing some of the finest vineyards in all of Europe. Wine became a staple in everyday diet and an integral part of religious ceremony, which carried its popularity through the Medieval period.
By the 17th century, wine production and consumption began to see increased competition from other rival products such as various distilled spirits, beer and ale, and coffee. At the same time, vast improvements in wine production and storage methods helped to increase its popularity. Glass making, the cork, and other accessories were some examples of these new advancements.

During the 18th century, wine production flourished in the Bordeaux region of France, in particular. The commercial importation of wine from Bordeaux extended all over Europe, especially England, Portugal, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. However, in the middle part of the 19th century, European vineyards suffered a devastating setback. In 1863, tiny, pale yellow insects called phylloxera vastatrix was introduced to Europe, most likely from North America, and caused mass destruction of Europeís vast vineyards. The insect attacks and feeds on vine roots and leaves cutting off the flow of nutrients and water to the vine. Southern France was the first region where vineyards began deteriorating and soon after the epidemic spread throughout Europe and devastated most of the wine industry. Desperate measures were taken to eradicate phylloxera, such as flooding fields and injecting soil with carbon bisulfide. However, these methods only offered a temporary reprieve. Eventually, hybridization proved to be the most successful solution. The native European wine grape, Vitis vinifera, was bred with other resistant species which produced a hybrid vine that tended to be much more hardy and resistant to disease. Unfortunately, as a result of utilizing hybridization to combat the phylloxera epidemic, many native species indigenous to Europe became extinct. Although, as a result of these measures, the wine industry was able to survive through this period, eventually leading toward a rejuvenated popularity as it entered the modern era.

While Prohibition was another major setback to the wine industry in the United States, the later half of the 20th century witnessed many new agricultural and technological developments that have enabled the wine industry to flourish throughout many parts of the world. The advent of refrigeration made it easier for wineries to control the temperature during the fermentation process, allowing normally hot climates to produce quality wines. Vineyards are now harvested much more quickly and efficiently by employing mechanized processes. This has allowed vineyards to become larger in size and increase the volume and quality of wine produced. Advanced machinery has benefited wine makers from the crushing process all the way through bottling. The globalization of wine began to take hold when international competition introduced wine varieties from around the world proving that quality wines can be produced outside of France. Famously and surprisingly at the time, the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 revealed that California wines had rated higher than French wines judged from eight of the top French wine taste tasting experts. While France continues to be among the leading wine producers in the world, many countries from around the world have also demonstrated their ability to produce quality wines reflecting the unique climate and manufacturing practices of their wine-growing regions.
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