The following is a part of a guest series authored by Lauren Gutshall on discovering new wines and beers.
Whenever we pour ourselves a tall glass of beer or decant a bottle of wine, we rarely pause to think about the liquid’s history and where it all came from. For the next several weeks, I’m going to explore the historical contexts of beer and wine.
The histories of both beer and wine are lengthy and span the globe, so this should be considered a quick and dirty history lesson.
Scholars believe that the origins of wine date as far back as 7000 BCE. Remnants of early wine have been found in Persia and modern-day Georgia, and the oldest known winery dates back to 3000 BCE in Armenia. Evidence of early wine has also been discovered in Israel, China and Egypt.
Although people were making wine for centuries, the Greek and Roman Empires significantly modernized wine production. Some of the earliest evidence of crushing grapes for wine production was found in Greece. The Romans advanced wine-making techniques by creating the wine press, using earthenware jars for fermentation and using barrels for storing and shipping wine.
The Roman Empire also impacted the way people viewed wine. The Romans democratized wine – it was consumed by all members of society regardless of social standing or status (although excessive drinking by women was frowned upon by Roman society). Wine became part of civilization and was used for religious, medicinal and economic practices. It was more than just a social drink; it was a commodity that could be purchased or traded.
The city of Pompeii in southern Italy became one of the primary sources of wine for the Empire because of its substantial vineyards. The vineyards were lost when Vesuvius erupted, and wine production moved closer to Rome. The Romans are credited with creating wine regions within the Empire, a forebear to modern viticulture appellations.
Although the French are perhaps the most renowned for their winemaking, even their practices can be traced back to ancient times, too. Not only are the techniques centuries old, but modern grape varietals can be traced back to a small number of original grapes. Researchers have found 13 European “founding grapes” that are the ancestors to the majority of today’s grapes.
Although vintners continue to make advancements in wine making, many of the fundamentals for the art of making wine are centuries old. Every time you open a bottle of wine, you get to experience a libation with a rich and storied history.