wine history tours logo
Search
Book Now

The History and Evolution of Winemaking

winemaking

The History and Evolution of Winemaking

Humans have been making and consuming wine for thousands of years. In certain civilizations it was considered a gift from the gods, and used in religious rituals. In other civilizations it was a dietary staple, and consumed daily. But no matter its role in society it has remained an integral part of many of the world’s greatest civilizations.

What is the History of Winemaking?

We may think to ourselves that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were the founders of wine, however, the invention of winemaking is much older than that. We’re talking thousands of years before the Ancient Greeks. Like 6,000 BC, back to the people known to be from the South Caucasus, or modern-day Georgia. 

Did you know there’s actually a fear of wine? It’s called oenophobia. It causes people with this fear to have hatred or anxiety around wine! It causes the same type of panic attacks related to seeing other things they fear.

To be fair, there are also some theories that grape was first discovered millions of years ago in the Stone Age, but not cultivated like it was back in Ancient Georgia. This area in modern-day Georgia is referred to as the ‘cradle of wine’ [1] because of its ancient wine history.

The early Georgians incorporated wine into their daily culture and discovered early on that grape juice easily turned into wine. They would actually store their grape juice underground during the winter months, this allowed the juice to ferment slowly at a constant temperature. A technique that is still practiced today in Georgia.

Wine continued to spread from civilization to civilization, and the evolution of winemaking continued. Though the Ancient Greeks and Romans were not responsible for inventing wine, they were responsible for introducing grapes and winemaking to much of Europe. But their wine was very different than the wine we drink today.

Their wine was often diluted with water. In fact, the Romans thought drinking undiluted wine was a habit of barbarians. They also added many different ingredients to their wine to flavor or help preserve the wine. A few of these ingredients included sea water, herbs, spices, honey, lead, and chalk.

The Divinity of Wine

It was also fascinating to note that no matter how bad ancient wine was; it still got people intoxicated, and that was still something new and unexplainable to many people. In ancient times people didn’t understand the fermentation process or what alcohol was so to them intoxication was, in fact, divine! [3].

Many civilizations considered wine the drink of the Gods for one reason or another, and even today the link between wine and religion continues with both Christianity and Judaism. Keep in mind that even before the divinity of wine occurred, the laws of humans would already place rules on intoxication.

Despite this view of divine wine in some civilizaitions, others still ran into issues surrounding overconsumption. For example, laws issued by King Hammurabi of Babylon put limitations on how alcohol was sold or how much could be consumed. Or in China, Emperor Chung K’iang went towards a more extreme route and even executed those that were drunk.

The Middle Ages

As the evolution of winemaking continued through the ancient times and into the Middle Ages, the main producers of wine began to change. Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, the Catholic Church controlled the majority of wine production. Much of the wine was produced by monks. Monasteries were in charge of tending to the grapevines and producing the wine. And these monks developed many new ideas and techniques around winemaking, some that even still exist today.

evolution of winemaking
Vesnaandjic | Getty Images

The Evolution of Winemaking Today 

Moving into more modern times, the wine was is produced has totally changed. Today, there’s more of a science behind it, and winemakers understand how different techniques such as the type of container used, the yeast variety, the amount of time aging will all effect the final wine. This is a stark contrast to the past, when it was all about finding enough grapes to crush and then just waiting for the juice to turn into alcohol.

Now we take note of everything from the flavour, to the body, to the richness of the wine. In addition, we are not only able to make great tasting wine, but we are also able to consistently make great tasting wine with every vintage.

The evolution of winemaking has reached a point where it’s become a mix of art, science, and passion. We have a culture of pairing wines with certain food types, building home storage systems to maintain the wines you’ve collected, and it even has become an investment vehicle for some. Country-producing wines have also exponentially grown. Whereas it was primarily developed and refined in Europe, we see fantastic award-winning options being created in the Americas, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand as well. 

We’re also seeing many other parts of the world become what are known as emerging wine regions [4], as they still have areas that can handle the climate. Places such as Japan, China, and even Canada are finding themselves building their own wine culture and histories. 

The Evolution of Winemaking Continues- the Future

Where is wine headed next? Well, obviously, technology throughout history has always been a part of the evolution of wine, and that won’t stop anytime soon. There’s a whole list of ways in which modern technology [5] is already finding itself in the wine industry.

For example, we have smart wine storage where warehouses combined with robotics and climate controls help to preserve the wine during storage and eventual transportation. On top of that, there’s a big push for satellite imagery and robotics. The satellite helps to check on the overall health of the vineyard, check on weather patterns, and see sooner than later if there are any issues.

There is also a growing movement changing the wine grapes are farmed, as more and more wineries become aware of the consequences of using harsh pesticides and herbicides. It appears that the organic and biodynamic movement will continue to grow among wineries in the future.

Sheep in picturesque vineyard at Native Flora Winery in the Dundee Hills
Sheep at Native Flora in the Dundee Hills | Photo via Wine History Tours

Conclusion

The history and evolution of winemaking is a fascinating subject that intertwines religious, social, and economic issues. So next time you find yourself grabbing a bottle of wine from the store, you now know you are a piece of the continued evolution of winemaking and its role in our civilizations.

Go Deeper: A History of Wine Tasting

References:

  1. “Discover the Secret Birthplace of Wine.” 2018. Travel. May 21, 2018. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/sponsor-content-secret-birthplace-of-wine.
  2. BBC News. 2017. “‘World’s Oldest Wine’ Found in 8,000-Year-Old Jars in Georgia,” November 13, 2017, sec. Europe. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41977709.
  3. “What Did Wine Taste like Thousands of Years Ago?” n.d. Serious Eats. https://www.seriouseats.com/wine-history-paul-lukacs-inventing-wine-how-wine-was-modernized-ancient-wine-tasted-terrible.
  4. “Vinovest | Investing in Wine as an Alternative Asset.” n.d. Vinovest. https://www.vinovest.co/blog/emerging-wine-regions.
  5. Thach, Dr Liz, and MW. 2022. “Nine Wine Technologies That Will Transform the Global Wine Industry.” Dr. Liz Thach, MW. January 12, 2022. https://lizthachmw.com/winestars/nine-wine-technologies-that-will-transform-the-global-wine-industry/.

Book Now

Share:

Hot Topics

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.
On Trend

Most Popular Stories

Dick Erath's wine

Dick Erath: An Oregon Legend

Willamette Valley’s Dick Erath Dick Erath’s contributions to the Oregon wine industry were numerous and profound. In the 1960s, he was  actually working in the