The history of wine (I)

Many of us are wine lovers, others are wine enthusiasts, and the rest of us just drink wine on special occasions.

Whatever the case and wherever we live, nowadays wine is found almost everywhere in the world: America, Northern Europe, on remote islands… Wine production has extended worldwide and, sometimes, even though optimal conditions for cultivation are not met, almost as if by magic we find noteworthy wines in some inhospitable and unexpected places.

However, while occasionally drinking a delicious glass of wine we ask ourselves…“what is the origin of this delicacy?”

The first winery
Vinicultural origins are so ancient that we have to go back to Armenia, where just a few years ago (in 2007), scientists and archaeologists discovered some vats and jars datable to between 4,000-4,100 BC.

They were recipients with which the ancient settlers made and kept the wine, found in what is to date the earliest known winery.

Surprising, isn’t it? Let’s continue…

Furthermore, the aforementioned studies also revealed some really interesting data. Researchers found maldivin 3-O-glucoside and tartaric acid traces, both of which indicated the presence of grapes in the surrounding area.

It is widely believed that, at that time, wine was produced on a large scale, expanding into neighbouring countries and also into the Mediterranean region.

This is the reason why locals are believed to have produced wine not only with wild grapes, but also with the domesticated variety.

The origins
To delve into the origins of wine production we have to travel to Northern Iran, where chemical and archaeological traces, dating back to ca. 7,000 BC, were discovered and then connected with wine. This area is believed to be its birthplace. Nevertheless, in line with the winery found in Armenia and based on the belief that there was some grape cultivation in this area, the world’s very first winegrowing regions can be placed near the Armenian mountains, Georgia, and some other bordering countries.

It is said that these ancients used to use tree resin to preserve wine and this tradition has persisted until the present, proof of which can be found in Greek retsina.

Ancestral rituals
Astonishing as these facts may be, we must not overlook the rituals that were related to the wine itself.

In many cultures and throughout the history of the mankind specific evidence has been found proving there were rituals to the dead involving some sort of drink. Curiously, in the areas surrounding the Armenian wineries, scientists have not only discovered a number of burial sites and cemeteries, but also many glasses inside or near the caves. This suggests that the glasses were used in wine burial rituals.

And what comes next? Mesopotamia and the Sumerians
If we continue to look back, we ask ourselves “and then what?” How did the grapevine and wine production spread to the rest of the world?

In all likelihood, wine was transported from the northern Zagros Mountains (Iran) to some areas near low Mesopotamia; a trip of nearly 600 Km. In this period, the area was inhabited by the Sumerians.

The well-known Greek historian Herodotus detailed stories of ships carrying this delicacy from Armenia to Babylonia.

And what happened when the demand increased?

They also started carrying grapevines to places nearby, such as the Central Zagros region and their cultivation gradually intensified closer to the most important urban centers. This way, the grapevine was not only cultivated in its place of origin (Armenia, Georgia and surrounding countries), but was also introduced in Mesopotamia, using the rivers as means of communication.

Now, every time that you taste a glass of wine, close your eyes and, before you take a sip, dwell on its origins and the fact that you are savoring a drink invented nearly 9,000 years ago.