No one knows for sure when wine making really began, but like many of the world’s other culinary miracles, this was no doubt originally an accidental discovery.
From the first time someone discovered that their “spoiled” grapes or grape juice was actually anything but, people have been actively working on producing wine – and the technologies and techniques have continually improved over the centuries.
From the crude manual methods of wine making used in antiquity to the high-tech systems used by commercial vintners today to easy-to-use wine making kits which allow oenophiles to make their own wine at home, the story of wine has been a story of innovation and continual progress.
The Creation of Wine
No one can say with certainty when exactly people began to make wine, but there are suggestions from available archaeological evidence that wine making may go back as far as the Bronze Age. Farmers began domesticating grapes, creating some of the distant ancestors of many of the varieties of wine grape we enjoy today. It is known that humans were growing grapes as early as 3,200 BC in the Middle East, with some strong evidence for the existence of wine making in Egypt and Sumer at that time due to archeological finds of what appear to be wine making supplies.
Wine Making Locations
Most experts speculate that the birthplace of wine was either along the coast of the Mediterranean in what is now Syria and Lebanon or in the Caucasus Mountains, in what is now Turkey, Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan. But no one knows for sure exactly where wine making originated.
However, it’s certain that the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and later, the Romans, made wine in antiquity. Literary references to wine are abundant in all of these cultures.
The Romans introduced new practices to the art of wine making and were perhaps the first culture to produce wine on a large commercial scale. Romans also took their knowledge of the art wherever they went, introducing viticulture to much of western Europe as well as northern Africa during their conquests. In fact, we may have the Roman Empire to thank for the development of many of Europe’s wine regions, especially in what is now Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.
It wasn’t until the age of Spanish exploration and conquest that wine grapes were introduced to the New World. The conquistadors brought viticulture to California and Florida in particular, planting vineyards alongside their missions; these grapes were eventually named “Mission Grapes” and are still in cultivation to this day.
However, it was succeeding waves of immigrants, each bringing their own varietals with them, who created the Americas’ wine producing regions. And today you can find domestic juices and juice concentrates from a wide range of varietals available for use in wine making.
Early Wine Making Technology
In the early days of wine grapes were pressed by trampling, as they still are on occasion – though this is more of a recreational event nowadays.
The invention of the wine press during the era of the Roman Empire was the advance which made grape stomping no longer necessary. This was a revolutionary advance in wine making which not only allowed wine makers to save a lot of time and effort, but dramatically increased production. Once this invention was in use, the export of wine throughout Europe became possible.
In antiquity, wine was stored in jars. It wasn’t a bad solution for the time, but not nearly as airtight as modern glass wine bottles and cork or plastic closures. As you’d expect, there was a much higher rate of spoilage in those days, though the development of glass bottles in the Levant during the latter days of the Roman Empire soon took over as the method of choice for storing and transporting wine.
Wine Making Gets Technical
Since the middle ages, the technology used to make wine has advanced by leaps and bounds.
Advances in temperature control to ensure better fermentation, improvements in viticulture to make grapes which are ever more suited to producing better wine, and replacing wooden fermentation tanks with glass-lined steel vessels have all contributed to the worldwide popularity of wine and the ever improving quality of even modestly priced wines.
Wine has come a long way since the Bronze Age. For us here at Quality Wine and Ale Supply, one of the most exciting developments of all is the ability for home vintners to continue this millennia-long tradition themselves.