History of wine

The history of wine dates back to the early stages of human civilization. It might sound outrageous to the ardent wine fans but if a report of National Geographic has to be believed then wine was first discovered in the Stone Age by the Paleolithic men when they tried to sip naturally fermented grape juice from pouches made of animal skin. There are, however, different versions to the story as to how the wine was first made or discovered. Most of the historians now believe that wine was first discovered by a woman. Their belief has received strong support from an ancient Persian legend. The Epic of Gilgamish, a document based on this legend, says this lady lived in the harem of King Jamshid and she used to suffer from serious bouts of migraine. One day the emperor discovered that his favorite bunch of grapes had a strange smell and was emanating foams. Assuming the grapes had turned poisonous the king ordered to throw them away. The lady on the other hand was in severe pain and she decided to end her life by consuming the ‘poison’. She drank the juice and surprisingly it not only cured her headache but also cheered her up. The amused lady shared the amazing fact with the king Jamshid. The king also found the wine very delightful and ordered to share it with the whole court.

It was from this same part of the world, in the Sumerian Empire in what is modern-day Iraq, that the most ancient goddess of wine is first mentioned. Her name was Gestin and she used to be worshipped during as early as 3000 BC. The reference of Gestin, which translates as wine, vine, and/or grape, is also mentioned in the ancient Indus manuscript, the Rig Veda. Experts believe it is quite reasonable that the first gods of wine were women, because the oldest deities were female agriculture goddesses of the earth and fertility. Gestin was most likely born from this agriculture base and over the centuries came to represent wine. So in a sense wine has always been linked with women. The belief that women have to stomp on the grapes to add extra flavor to the juice also proves the point. It is this alliance between wine and women that has earned the beverage a feminine touch.

Coming back to the relatively modern era, it is still fuzzy exactly where wine was first made. It could have been anywhere in the vast region, stretching from North Africa to Central, South and East Asia, where wild grapes grew. The ancient Chinese made wine from native wild ‘mountain grapes’ like Vitis Thunbergii (is called putao jio in Chinese) for a considerable period until they imported domesticated grape seeds from Central Asia in the 2nd century. One can only guess that the first large-scale production of wine must have been in the region where grapes were first cultivated. Archeological evidences suggest that the earliest wine production took place in Georgia & Iran during 6000 to 5000 BC. The archeological evidence also points to the domestication of grapevines Sumer & Egypt. However, none of these areas could be definitively singled out despite persistent suggestions that Georgia was the birth place of wine. The sacrificial wine which was offered as a tribute to pagan gods became the sacramental wine in the early Christian church. Though, wine was forbidden in the Islamic civilization, but after Gaber and other Muslim chemists pioneered the distillation of wine it was used for other purposes, including cosmetics & medical uses. The Romans had carried wine making into much of Western Europe, especially the Moselle and Rhine valley sections of France and Germany and the Danube river valley of Austria. Following the voyages of Columbus & other explorers, grape cultivation was transported from the Old World to Mexico, South America, South Africa, Australia and California. Today wine is produced in all the inhabited continents.

In 1860, a tiny yellow louse, Phylloxera Vastarix, nearly destroyed the old world’s wine industry. It brought catastrophe for all those whose lives depended on wine. On the positive side, it led to the transformation of European vineyards. Only the fittest survived. Bad vineyards were uprooted & better uses were found for the land. The industry was revived by the development of Phylloxera – resistant vines as a collaborative effort of the French botanist, Jules-Emile Planchon, and American entomologist Charles Riley. Their solution to the blight was to graft together American roots that were Phylloxera –resistant & the Fruits bearing shoots of European Vines. Some of France’s best butter & cheese, for example, is now made from cows that graze on Charentais soil which was previously covered with vines. “Curvées” were also standardized. This was particularly important in creating certain wines as we know them today – champagne & Bordeaux finally achieved the grape mix which defines them today. In 1936, the Paris based INAO (Institute National des Appellations d’ Origine) introduced the Appellation d’origine Controller (AOC) system to classify the geographical origin & style of French wines. AOC implements a rigorous standard in every aspect of the wine business in France, from dictating the choice of grape verities & methods of growing them to controlling yields, settling minimum alcohol levels & laying down stringent wine - making rules. At the bottom of the pyramid are vin de table (table wines), which accounts 28% of the wine production. They don’t offer much in terms of quality, but there are notable exceptions like the innovative & sweet Pouily Fume ( pronounced poo-ee-foo-may) made by Didier Dagueneau in the Loire valley, or Rebelle, the award-winning blended red wine produced by Dulong, the Bordeaux firm. Above the table wines are the Vin de pays (regional wines), which were not designed to be more than daily drinking fare, but a number of vin de pays labels command a higher price than their AOC rivals. The third - VDQS or Vin Delimite de Quality Superieure, is a shrinking category. Most VDQS wines have been promoted to the AOC status.


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