With apologies to Stephen Hawking for the title of this article, a brief history of wine is really just hitting the highlights of the highlights.
We don’t know for sure how long wine has been with humankind. The evidence seems to begin on papyrus scrolls; wine was surely evident in ancient Egyptian civilization. More than a thousand years before Christ, the Greek empire spread wine throughout the known world. It was the Greeks who introduced it to Italy and France, which are regarded as the cradles of modern winemaking. Volumes were written about wine and winemaking in Roman times. Vineyards could be found in nearly every part of Italy and Sicily. While the Greeks used earthenware for their wines, the Romans came up with barrels and bottles. The Greeks did introduce wine to what is now France, but the Romans planted areas that would become some of the most famous vineyards in the world.
A Brief History Of Wine: The Cork
One of the great moments in the evolution of wine was the discovery of cork in the 17th century. It was noticed that wine kept much longer in a tightly corked bottle. One wine that took best advantage of this was port, the sweet desert wine from Portugal. It was too harsh and strong for the English taste when it was young, but the cork allowed it to age. It then became much smoother and more enjoyable. To this day, the English are among the largest consumers of port.
A Brief History Of Wine: Louis Pasteur
In the 1860’s Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to study why so much wine spoiled on the way from the vineyard to the consumer. Pasteur discovered that too much contact with oxygen in the air would encourage the growth of vinegar causing bacteria. He also found that a little oxygen would help the wine to mature. So the trick was to minimize the air the wine was exposed to during its making, bottling, and storage. Pasteur’s efforts made the French wine trade a great deal of money, and wine drinkers everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude.
A Brief History Of Wine: The New World
As Europeans moved into the New World, wine inevitably followed. Early settlers of the eastern part of North America found wild grapes. Naturally, they made wine. The results were not very successful. Native grapes were of a different species than European grapes, and the wine was intensely disliked by the colonists. The vines they imported from Europe died. The early settlers did not know that the entire eastern region was home to an organism that killed the imported vines. They kept on trying, however. Among the colonists trying unsuccessfully to produce wines was Thomas Jefferson. He was something of a connoisseur, having been introduced to French wines.
The west coast had better luck. European vines were taken into California from Mexico by the Jesuits. The organism that killed vines on the east coast was not present in California. Vines moved northward along with the missions and arrived in Sonoma in 1805. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, good wine is being made in the U.S. from the tip of Long Island all the way to Washington State.
This brief history of wine covered the high spots of how where wine got started and how it came to the new world. Now you should create your own history of wine. Expand your palate and try new things. That is one of the joys of wine. A votre sante.