The beginnings of wine extend back many thousands of years before recorded history. It was easily made. Indeed, it occurs naturally and was discovered rather than invented.
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Wine has been used for many purposes throughout history. It’s been an important source of nourishment. But it’s also been a
- source of energy
- sanitary alternative to polluted water
- substance to relieve pain
- promoter of conviviality
- mood lifter
- source of relaxation
- medium of exchange
- symbol of agreement
- part of religion
The beginnings of wine are obscure and lost to human memory. But archeology and analytic chemistry have shed some light on early efforts to produce the beverage. We start here with the very earliest beginnings of wine.
It appears that the earliest alcoholic beverages in the world may have been made from berries or honey.1
Cir. 8000 B.C.
After humans formed agricultural communities, they used some of their production into into making beverage. This is known from chemical analysis of pottery found in northern China. The pottery had contained a fermented drink made with rice, honey, grapes, and hawthorn berries.2
Chemical analysis of a residue from the inside of a jar found in what is now Iran revealed that it once held wine.’3
Cir. 4000 B.C.
• Wine appeared in Egyptian pictographs.4
• The oldest known winery in the world dates back to about 4,100. It was found in an Armenian cave.5
• Jars dating back to the second millennium B.C. have been found in Azerbaijan. They had the remains of wine.6
Post cir. 4000 B.C.
• Osiris, the god of wine, was worshipped throughout Egypt.7
• Egyptians made at least 24 varieties of wine.8
• Wine was both deified and offered to gods in Egypt. Cellars and wine presses even had a god whose hieroglyph was a wine press.9
Cir. 3,500 B.C.
Jars in Cyprus from this period once held wine, according to chemical analysis.10
Cir. 3000 B.C.
• Ceramic jars from the Near East contained high levels of tartaric acid, a principal residue of wine.11
• The first known illustration of wine drinking is on a 5,000-year-old Sumerian panel.12
Mead is a fermented beverage made from honey and water. It became popular in what is now Greece.13 But a limited supply of honey may have restricted its availability.14
Winemaking is a major theme in what might be the oldest written story in the world, the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was written by various authors in what is today Iraq.15
Cir. 2000 B.C.
• Wine was used for medicinal purposes in Sumeria as early as 2000 B.C.16
• Wine making reached the Greek peninsula by around this time.17
• According to archaeological evidence, specific containers were used for wine in Italy.18
It was written that the land of Israel was ‘blessed with figs and with vineyards producing wine in greater quantity than water.’19
Wine making was common in Greece. During the next thousand years wine became an integral part of daily life. It was drunk with meals, used in religious rituals, used to hospitality, and was widely used as medicine.20 Wine was enjoyed both warm and chilled, pure and mixed with water, plain and spiced.21
Cir. 1500 B.C.
With the arrival of the Phoenicians, wine was first made in Malta.22
According to the Old Testament (Genesis 9:20), Noah planted a vineyard on Mt. Ararat in what is now Turkey.
Egyptian King Tutankhamen died in 1323 B.C. and his tomb was opened in 1922. Wine jars buried with his body had labels indicating the vintage, the winemaker’s names, and comments about the wine.23
Cir. 1200 B.C.
The Hebrew people were reportedly introduced to wine during their captivity in Egypt. When Moses led them to what is now Palestine, they regretted leaving behind the wines of Egypt (Numbers 20:5). Fortunately, vineyards were plentiful in the new land.24
1100 B.C. – 1400 A.D.
Chinese laws against making wine were enacted and repealed forty-one times during this period.25
Cir. 1100 B.C.
Vineyards were first planted around Cadiz, in what is now Spain, probably by Phoenicians.26
Cir. 1000 B.C.
The earliest evidence of wine in what is now Bulgaria appeared.27
By this time, the Mayans had become a mead-drinking society. They flavored mead with bark from the balche tree.28
• Vineyards existed in the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:8).30
• Hosea (780’“725 B.C.) reportedly urged his followers to return to God so that “they will blossom as the vine, [and] their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon.’31
• Wine played a major role in Greek life. It was used as an offering to deities. Used as a currency. Consumed formally, informally, ritually, and medicinally. In some Greek states its consumption could even be a civic duty.32
• Rigveda, the literary gem of ancient India, contains the oldest known description of mead in the world. It was written over the period of 1700-1100 B.C.33
Cir. 850 B.C.
Drinking wine was prohibited by the Rechabites and Nazarites. These were two nomadic Christian sects.34
Wine was the highly preferred beverage in the Greco-Roman world. Calling someone a ‘water-drinker’ was an insult and they were thought to exude a ‘noxious odor.’35
Cir. 600 B.C.
• Greeks established what is today Marseille. They taught the French how to prune grape vines to improve yield.36
• Greeks settled in what is now Portugal and improved viniculture there.37
Following release of the Hebrew people from Babylonian exile, wine became a common beverage for everyone, including the very young. It served many functions, such as these.
– A major source of nutrition.
– A commonly used medicinal.
– An integral part of celebrations.
– An essential provision for any fortress.
– An important commodity.38
Cir. 525 B.C.
It was ruled that the Jewish Kiddush, or pronouncement of the Sabbath, should be recited over a cup of wine that had been blessed. Thus, the regular drinking of wine in Jewish ceremonies outside the Temple was codified.39
Around 500 B.C.
People in what is now France increasingly began making wine. They learned both viticulture and viniculture from the Etruscans from whom they had long been importing wine.40
Cir. Fifth Century B.C.
• Thucydides (cir. 460- cir. 400 BC.), the Greek historian, wrote that the people of the Mediterranean began to ’emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the oil and the vine.’41
• Xenophon (431-351 B.C.) and Plato (429-347 B.C.) both extolled the moderate drinking of wine as beneficial to health and happiness.42
• Hippocrates (cir. 460-370 B.C.) identified what he believed to be the many medicinal benefits of wine. It had long been used for its therapeutic value.43
• Most Greek wines were resinated. That is, they were treated with the gum of the terebinth tree, which gave them a distinctive flavor. This slowed oxidation and prevented the wine from becoming vinegar. Also often added were things such as spices, honey, and seawater. Wine was not filtered and had to be strained before being served. This was to prevent either drinking or choking on stalks, pits, and other debris.44
• In the mid-fifth century, the Greek island of Thasos established laws regulating the quality of wine.45
• There was a continuous history of winemaking in Luxembourg since the ancient Romans.46
• First mention of grape-based wine in India.47
Fourth Century B.C.
The history of wine in Burgundy began when the Romans began exporting wine into the beer-drinking area of what is now France.48
Third and Second Centuries B.C.
• In the Roman dinner party or convivium, wine was served before, with, and after the meal.49
• The Romans, as did the Greeks, mixed their wine with water and usually drank it along with food to avoid intoxication.50
• Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) wrote about wine and his views about its medicinal value. He believed that wine was useful for many problems. These included constipation, indigestion, gout, snake bites, diarrhea and many others. Its effectiveness was enhanced when flowers of myrtle, juniper, pomegranate, and hellebore had been soaked in it.51
The Roman Senate had a Carthaginian treatise on viticulture translated. The De Agri Cultura dealt with every aspect of managing vineyards. It even recommend the rations for slaves and their clothing allowances.52
Cir. 100 B.C.
After the Phoenicians invented glass blowing, they produced glass wine cups.53
Late Second Century.
• Large quantities of wine began to be produced in Italy for both domestic consumption and export. By 100 B.C., wine was apparently consumed daily by Romans of all income levels.54
• Annual per capita consumption of wine is estimated to have been about 250 liters. Over the next 500 years or so inexpensive and even free wine was frequently distributed to the public. It was even used as payment by the state.55
First Century B.C.
Wine production increased greatly in Italy and exporting wine became very profitable.56
Winemaking began in England. Over time every important villa had grape vines or a vineyard.57
We’ve traveled from the early beginnings of wine to the beginning of Christianity. Our journey will now takes us through early Christianity.
Fun with Wine!
References: Beginnings of Wine
1. Blum, R.H., et al. Society and Drugs. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1969, p. 25. Roueche, B. The Neutral Spirit. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960, p. 8. French, H. Nineteen Centuries of Drink in England. London: Natl Temp Pub Depot, 1890, p. 37.
2. McGovern, P, et al. Fermented beverages of pre- and proto-historic China. Proceed Natl Acad Sci., 2004, 101(51), 17593’“17598. McGovern, P. Ancient Wine: The Search for the Beginnings of Wine. Princeton: Princeton U Press, 2003, p. 314.
3. Gately, I. Drink. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 3.
4. Lucia, S. History of Wine as Therapy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1963, p. 16.
5. Areshian, G., et al. The chalcolithic of the Near East and south-eastern Europe. Antiquity, 2012, 86, 115-130.
6. Robinson, J., (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Wine. London: Oxford U Press, 2006.
7. Lucia, S. The Antiquity of Alcohol in Diet and Medicine. In: Lucia, S., (ed.) Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963, pp. 151-166. P. 152.
8. Ghaliouqui, P. Fermented Beverages in Antiquity. In: Gastineau, C.F., et al., (eds.) Fermented Food Beverages in Nutrition. NY: Academic Press,1979. Pp.3-19. Pp. 8 and 11.
9. Areshian, G., ibid..
10. Cyprus ‘first to make wine.’ Decanter, May 16, 2005.
11. Smith, F.H. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking. Gainesville: U Press of Florida, 2008, p. 19.
12. Johnson, H. The Story of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2005.
13. Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, p. 3.
14. Engs, R. Do traditional Western European drinking practices have origins in antiquity? Addict. Res., 1995, 2(3), 237-23.
15. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Ancient Texts Organization.
16. Babor, T. Alcohol. NY: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 1.
17. Younger, W. Gods, Men, and Wine. London: Wine and Food Society & Michael Joseph, 1966, p. 79.
18. Cottino, A. Italy. In: Heath, D, (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. Pp. 156-167. P. 158.
19. Cottino, ibid..
20. Babor, pp. 2-3.
21. Raymond, I. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. NY: Columbia U Press, 1927, p. 53.
22. Morana, M. The History of Wine in Malta.
23. Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006, p. 18.
24. Lutz, H. Viticulture and Brewing in the Ancient Orient. NY: J. C. Heinrichs, 1922, p. 25.
25. Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario [booklet], 1961, p. 5.
26. Stevenson, T. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. London: DK, 2005, p. 303.
27. History of Bulgarian Wines.
28. Gately, p. 10.
29. Portuguese Wine.
30. Robinson, J., (ed.)The Oxford Companion to Wine. London: Oxford U Press, 2006, pp.364-365.
31. McGovern, P. Ancient Wine: The Search for the Beginnings of Wine. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U Press, 2003, p. 202.
32. Gately, pp. 11-12.
33. Gately, ibid.
34. Lutz, p. 133. McGovern, ibid. Samuelson, J. The History of Drink. London: Trubner, 1878, pp. 62-63.
35. Role of Wine in Greco-Roman Culture.
36. Esteicher, p. 25.
37. Portuguese Wine.
38. Raymond, p. 23.
39. Hanson, p. 4.
40. Flatow, I. Tracing the beginnings of wine in France. Search for the beginnings of wine. Science Friday, June 7, 2013. NPR website. Palmer, J. French wine ‘has Italian origins.’ BBC News. June 3, 2013. BBC News website. McGovern, P.E. Ancient Wine: The Search for the Beginnings of Wine. Princeton: Princeton U Press, 2003. McGovern, P., et al. Beginnings of wine in France. Proceed Natl Acad Sciences U.S.A., 2013, 110(25), published online before print 3 June, 2013.
41. Johnson, H. The Story of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2005.
42. Hanson, ibid.
43. Lucia, 1963, pp. 36-40.
44. Gately, pp. 13-14.
45. Esteicher, S.K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006, p. 24.
46. Institut Viti-Vinicole. Grand-Duche Luxembourg website.
47. Wine Facts.
48. Taber, G. Judgment of Paris. NY: Scribner, 2005, p. 25.
49. Gately, p. 32.
50. Engs, R. Do traditional Western European drinking practices have origins in antiquity? Addict Res., 1995, 2(3), 227-239. P. 234.
51. Sournia, J-C. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 10.
52. Gately, pp. 29-30.
53. Esteicher, p. 21.
54. Younger, ibid. Hyams, E. Dionysus. NY: Macmillan, 1965, pp. 130-131. Engs, p. 231.
55. Jellinek, E. Drinkers and alcoholics in ancient Rome. J Stud Alco., 1976, 37, 1718-174. Jones, A. The Later Roman Empire 284-602. Vol. I-II. Baltimore: John Hopkins U Press. 1986, p. 704. Purcell, N. Wine and wealth in ancient Italy. J Roman Stud., 1985, 75, 1-19. Pp. 13-15.
56. Sournia, J-C. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 10.
57. Stevenson, p. 398.