Winemaking is an art that has existed for years and years. You might know about various types of wines but how much do you know about the history and evolution of winemaking.
What is the history of winemaking?
We may think to ourselves that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were the founders of wine, or at least made it popular through their legendary parties. However, the evolution of winemaking is a lot longer than that. We’re talking about thousands of years before they even existed. Like 8,000 BC, back to the people known to be from the South Caucasus. That’s modern Georgia today for those wondering the exact location.
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. They call that the ‘cradle of wine’ , finding a rudimentary way of making wines (still from grapes).
The early Georgians incorporated wine into their daily culture and discovered early on that grape juice easily turned into wine by having it underground during the winter months. This type of storage also enabled the wine to stay there for up to 50 years! For a while, it was thought that the oldest wine that was made, which technically wasn’t made of grapes, was around 7,000 BC and actually hailed from China.
This type of wine was made of rice, honey and fruit . Either way, this still crashes our historical images of toga parties that went off for days in the debauchery of Ancient Rome. Yet ancient wine has a different purpose than the way that we appreciate wine these days.
In fact, in those ancient times, we found that people would drink wine cut with honey or even salt water at times. Other additives were used throughout history that actually ended up making the wine quite nutritious and a better alternative to simple water. It became a functional drink that was guaranteed to be safer than dirty water meant for drinking. Yet that didn’t mean the wine always tasted great.
To fix the taste of the wine, mixtures were always happening, similar to the idea of ancient mixologists and cocktails. Wine could be so syrupy and strong that it would take up to 5 times more water to properly dilute the wine and make it more palatable.
The divinity of wine
It was also fascinating to note how bad ancient wine tended to be; it still got people intoxicated or drunk, and that was still something new to many. It also helped to pack a higher percentage of alcohol than beer, which is even older than wine. Since, in ancient times people didn’t understand what was happening to the grapes, i.e. the fermentation process and converting the sugars to alcohol, they thought that this heavier intoxication was, in fact, divine! .
Yes, many considered it the drink of the Gods for one reason or another, and that has led to modern-day religions till this day, where the holy communion in Christianity is done with, well, wine. Keep in mind that even before the divinity of wine occurred, the laws of humans would already place rules on intoxication coming from too much consumption of wine.
We can see that well ahead of its times, laws issued by King Hammurabi of Babylon already putting limitations on how alcohol was sold or how much could be consumed. An Emperor of China, Chung K’iang, went towards a more extreme route and even executed those that were drunk. That puts into perspective our thinking that DUI or public intoxication laws seem too harsh these days.
The commercialization of wine
We leave it to the Europeans and religion to help with the monetization of wine. This all happened in the Middle Ages when monasteries were also typically producers of some type of alcoholic beverage. They would, of course, partake in it as well as produce it for mass distribution and sale.
How did the evolution of winemaking start?
Moving into more modern times, the primary difference is typically that we add more to the wines these days. In addition, there’s more of a science behind it, with everything from checking the containers, to proper temperatures, to how the grapes themselves are harvested. In the past, it was all about finding enough grapes to crush and wait to produce alcohol.
Now we take note of everything from the flavour, to the body, to the richness of the wines that are produced. In addition, we’ve moved past making ‘good’ tasting wine, which was a major issue that started to get resolved and have moved on to consistent perfection.
We have entire vineyards specifically dedicated to only winemaking, and mixing the wrong types of grapes together is considered a sin by some in the wine industry to avoid. Even how we work to process it, from hypoallergenic sterilized steel vats to work on consistently modernizing ancient wine casks and barrels to combine the old with the new and get the best of both worlds with the wine.
Essentially, the evolution of winemaking has reached a point where it’s an art form and a passion. It’s built out a culture of pairing wines with certain food types, building out home storage systems to maintain the reds and whites you’ve collected in your travels and 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 and Australia.
We’re also seeing many other parts of the world become what are known as emerging wine regions , as they still have areas that can handle the climate. Places such as Japan, China, Israel and even Canada are finding themselves building their own wine culture and histories.
The evolution of winemaking – 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  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.
Robotics are finding themselves in all avenues of agriculture, and vineyards are no exception. They help with the process of planting, fertilization and harvesting, with the intention to bring that level of consistency that’s needed when producing the finest of wines.
Wine is not only rich in its variety of flavors but also in how extensive of a history it has had and has an impact on social and economic shifts. So next time you see yourself grabbing that bottle of wine from the grocery store or specialized wine store, you now know just how relevant wine has become in the history of human beings. Enjoy!