Friday, December 9, 2011

8000 Years of Wine History


When partaking of your Oregon Pinot noir or Cabernet Washington wine, reflect not on the age of the luscious liquid, but on the age of the art itself.
People have been sipping the noble nectar for at least 8000 years, possibly longer.

Georgia (Sakartvelo), on the Black Sea, remains the earliest locale for wine production, according to a 2006 genetic study. The grapes that gave up their lives for your refreshment today may have roots in that tiny Eastern European nation. The earliest evidence comes from 6000 BC. Today, Georgia's vineyards produce over 500 kinds of wine.

From there, the art of winemaking might have spread to Iran (5000 BC), Sumer, Phoenicia and Egypt (3000 BC), and Greece (4500 BC). Eventually, wine production even spread to China.

Eastern Mediterranean
The exact beginning dates for wine production in any one region remain unknown. However, the Phoenician amphora made it possible to store and transport wine and this idea went over big in Greece and later Rome.

As Greek colonies spread farther west, wine growing was introduced to Sicily, Italy, southern France and Spain.

Roman Empire
The Romans made wine a regular part of their lives. They improved the cultivation, preparation and storage of wine, especially with the Greek invention of the screw (for wine presses), Syrian invention of the glass blow pipe (bottles) and the Gaul invention of wooden barrels. Many grape varieties were created during the Roman Empire.

Middle Ages
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe suffered numerous invasions and long stretches of social turmoil. The Roman Catholic Church kept some semblance of order and kept alive the art of winemaking indispensable to the Mass.

Renaissance and Modern Era
Germany and France emerged as key wine producing areas, and after nearly a thousand years, these regions had fully matured.

In the nineteenth century, however, European vineyards suffered the Phylloxera louse which devastated wine production. The one major plus point proved to be that only the hardiest of vines survived.

Also, in the nineteenth century, the art of winemaking spread to the New World, invading California and later Oregon and Washington states, producing labels that, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, rivaled the best of Europe. If you haven't sampled from the best Oregon Pinot noir, you're missing a truly delightful experience.

The former Soviet republic of Georgia still produces wine, though for awhile things looked pretty bleak for Georgia's wine industry. A 2006 Russian ban on Georgian wine imports plummeted production in that small country by 80%. Two years later, tensions exploded into the South Ossetia war, with Russian tanks rolling into Georgia and Russian air force bombing near the capital, Tbilisi.

With the loss of their key wine customer, Georgia ironically experienced a positive effect on the quality of their wine that may have increased its chances within international markets. While Russia preferred sweet wines, with the loss of that market, Georgian winemakers switched to dry wines. And Western palates couldn't be happier.

Mark Doyle is a freelance writer who loves a glass of cabernet at the end of the day.

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