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The History of Wine

Wine was one of the first things that Man created. Maybe it was made by Stone-age man who placed ripe grapes in a container of clay, wood or skin and forgot about them. A little warmth caused the grapes to ferment and so formed wine.

Vitis Vivifera was being cultivated in the Middle East by 4000BC, and possibly even earlier. Egyptian records indicate the use of grapes for winemaking from 2500BC. They left records of wine lists and recorded the vintage, vineyard and winemaker on individual jars of wine, the first wine labels. The Babylonians laid down laws to regulate the running of a wine shop. The Greeks carried out a wine trade and planted grapes in their colonies from the Black Sea to Spain. The Romans grew wine grapes in the Rhine and Moselle regions of Germany and the Danube region of Romania and Austria. This also extended to the French regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire and Champagne. The role of wine in Christian mass helped maintain the industry after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Following the voyages of Christopher Columbus, grape culture and winemaking were transported to the New World. Spanish missionaries took viticulture to Chile and Argentina in the 16th century and California in the 18th century.

British settlers planted vines in Australia and New Zealand in the early 19th century while the Dutch settlers took grapes from the Rhine to South Africa in 1654.

In 1870 and 1900 the Eastern American root louse and phylloxera threatened the wine industry around the world. To combat this disease, vines were grafted on to Native American rootstock which had proven resistant to these diseases. This prompted European governments to implement laws allotting regional names and quality rankings to wines grown in specific regions.

The biggest breakthrough in winemaking was when the ability to keep and age wine was mastered, allowing us to keep it for years. Prior to the 19th century, little was known about the process of fermentation or the cause of spoilage. The Greeks stored wine in earthenware amphorae and the Romans used oak casks. Both these civilisations drank the wine within the year and disguised spoilage by adding honey, herbs and salt water. Wooden barrels were the principal storage vessel until the 17th century, when mass production of glass bottles started and cork stoppers were invented. This allowed the wine to be stored for years. Louis Pasteur explained the nature of fermentation in the 19th century and identified the yeast responsible for it. He also identified the bacteria that spoilt wine and devised a heating method to kill the bacteria. This was known as pasteurization. Later in the century methods were developed to grow pure strains of specific yeast.


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