History of Wine in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was that period of societal re-birth that brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. Art, logic, and learning flourished. It all began to emerge very slowly. And it didn’t occur everywhere at the same time. This makes it hard  to date its beginning. Historians disagree. But many set it at around 1300. Wine in the Renaissance improved in quality. Vineyards and winemaking also spread.

Beginning in 1315 and continuing until the late 1800s, the world experienced the Little Ice Age. This was a major change in climate. It was especially severe from about 1560 until 1660. The Little Ice Ages was very harmful to all agriculture, including viniculture. Wine became scarce and expensive.1

A law was passed in England that required all wine and beer to be sold at a reasonable price. It failed to indicate what a fair price was.2

A French law required taverns to sell wine to anyone who requested it.3

Florence passed a law prohibiting innkeepers from selling wine or other beverages to people who were poor.4

Rules about winemaking in Burgundy were created by Duke Philip the Bold.5  This was  to improve its quality He also ordered the destruction of all vineyards planted in Gamay. He believed the ‘disloyal plant makes a wine in great abundance but horrid in harshness.’6 Excellent wine is now produced from Gamay. Perhaps the fault was in the winemakers rather than in the grape.

The Turks imposition of Muslim rule ended winemaking between 1396 and 1878 in what is now Bulgaria.7

Fifteenth Century
• Between the 1400s and the 1800s, wine played a major role in Spanish life. It was used as a beverage, for cooking, as a food preservative, and as a medicine when mixed with herbal remedies.8
• England dominated the wine trade.9
• French cities provided free wine on Catholic feast days and during celebrations.10

Winemaking in Nigeria almost certainly began long before the arrival of Europeans. Palm wine was an important beverage.11

The English Navigation Act of 1490 increased wine imports from Bordeaux.12

The Scottish Parliament made any adulteration of wine or beer a crime punishable by death.13

Attempts to grow vines in the Americas began in Hispaniola.14

Sixteenth Century
• In the 16th and 17th centuries, hand-blown glass bottles became more affordable. They began to surpass ceramic vessels as the main way of storing and transporting wine.15
• Paraguay developed into a wine production region.16

wine in the Renaissance
Ferdinand II

The king of Spain (Ferdinand II of Aragon) banned planting grape vines in Hispaniola.17

The first European grape vines in the Americas were planted in Mexico by Hernan Cortes.18

Wine was considered a basic food in the wine producing areas of southern France, but not elsewhere in the country.19

alcohol in the Renaissance1532
Vineyards were planted around São Paulo, Brazil, by the Portuguese.20

Two European settlers, a priest and the founder of the town of Mendoza, planted the first vines in Argentina.21

Vineyards were established in Peru.22

The first wine in Brazil was produced.23

Vineyards had been planted in Chile and wine was produced as early as 1555.24

• Argentina’s first vineyard was planted by Father Juan Cedrón.25
• Wine was made from wild grapes by the Spaniards in what is now Florida.26

• The first book in English devoted to the subject of wine was A Book of Wine.27
• Spanish Settlers planted a vineyard, believed with vinefera vines, on Parris Island, South Carolina. (Vinifera are European vines. They are not native to the Americas.)28

Bolivian wine was first produced.29

wine in the renaissance
Henry III of France

Henry III of France permitted wine sellers and owners of tavern and cabarets to form a guild.30

The success of vineyards in Mexico led the King of Spain forbid new plantings or vineyard replacements there. He did that fearing his colony would become self-sufficient in wine. The prohibition lasted for 150 years and prevented the development of a commercial wine industry in Mexico.31

Seventeenth Century
The seventeenth century was a period of great expansion in trade and commerce. Wine was an important part of that.

• The Dutch dominated the wine trade.32
• The Dutch created major innovations in wine production. One the fortification of wine to preserve it longer than a year. Another was the use of sulphur to sanitize wine barrels. A third was the late harvesting of grapes.33
• Sparkling wine was first produced. It occurred in England where still wine from Champagne was stored in cellars over the winter and underwent a secondary fermentation. It was called ‘brisk champagne’ The French considered bubbles in wine to be a  defect to be avoided.3 But the English preferred them. (Contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine. That is a myth apparently based on a publicity campaign by the Dom Perignon company. This occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s.) To take advantage of its popularity, around 1668, he used stronger bottles, developed a stronger system to cork them, and began blending the wine. But another century would pass before sparkling Champagne became widely popular.34 Yet this was a major development in wine in the Renaissance.
• Winemaking began in what is now New Mexico.35

• Severely bad weather in Europe caused a shortage of wine. A plague in parts of Europe may have been caused by people having to drink less sanitary liquids.36
• There were 187 vineyards in Peru. There were reports of anywhere from  1,768,000 to 2,000,000 total vines.37wine in the renaissance

Vineyards were planted by English settlers in the colony of Virginia.38

Spain banned the export of Peruvian wine to Panama to protect its own export market.39

Spain banned the export of Peruvian wine to Guatemala. Again, this was to protect its own export market.40

The most profitable business in Rotterdam was the wine trade.41

• The colony of Virginia passed enacted a law requiring every landholder to plant and maintain ten vines each year. The intent was to promote knowledge and experience in raising vines by land owners.42
• Eight vine growers, mostly Frenchmen, arrived in Virginia.43

• At least 10,000 vines were planted in Virginia. The next year every land owner received a manual on cultivating vines and making wine.44
• The first European grape vines (Vitis vinefera) were planted in New Hampshire by Ambrose Gibbons at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. They did not flourish and he was pessimistic about their prospects. ‘The vines that were planted will come to nothing. They prosper not in the ground where they were set, but them that grow naturally are very good of divers sorts.’45

wine in the renaissance
Sir Kenelm Digby

Cir. 1633
The modern wine bottle was invented by Sir Kenelm Digby of England. ‘For the first time since the fall of Rome, Europe had the technology to age wine.’46

The first vineyards in Delaware were planted by Swedish immigrants.47

• The first guided tasting was held in Brazil. The purpose was to raise wine quality standards uniformly throughout the country.48
• The Dutch planted the first vineyard in New Amsterdam, now known as New York.49

The first vineyard in South Africa was planted by the Dutch.50

Grapes from the 1655 vineyard planting  were first pressed in the autumn of 1659.51

The most popular wine in Scotland and England was red wine from Bordeaux that they called (and still call) Claret.52

wine in the renaissance
Charles Calvert

Maryland Governor Charles Calvert planted a 240 acre (97 hectare) vineyard and three years later planted 100 acres (40 hectares) more.53

The first brand-name wine (wine sold as the product of a specific estate in France) was produced since ancient Egypt.54

The Portuguese discovered that if enough brandy is added to wine before the end of fermentation, the fermentation stops. This leaves some of the natural sugar in the wine.55

The first observations of yeast cells were recorded as drawings and as descriptions in letters to the Royal Society of London.56

wine in the renaissance
King Charles II

The importation of French wine was prohibited by King Charles II when Britain and France went to war.57

The end of the Peruvian wine-boom occurred when the entire southern coast of the country was hit by a devastating earthquake. It destroyed both cities and the wine infrastructure.58

William and Mary imposed heavy duties to discourage French wine trade and light duties to encourage Portuguese wine trade.59


We’ve seen some of the developments of wine in the Renaissance. We now turn to major events in wine in the 18th Century.

Fun with Wine!

References: Wine in the Renaissance

1.  Fagan, B. The Little Ice Age. NY: Basic, 2000.

2.  Bickerdyke, J. The Curiosities of Ale and Beer. London: Spring, 1965, p. 106.

3.  Dion, R. Histoire de las Vigne et du Vin en France des origines au XIXe Siecle. Paris: Roger, 1959, p. 487.

4.  Staley, E. The Guilds of Florence. NY: Benjamin Blom, 1967, p. 371.

5.  Taber, G. Judgment of Paris. NY: Scribner, 2005, p. 26.

6.  Lichine, A. Wines of France. NY: Knopf, 1951, p. 67.

7.  Stevenson, T. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. London: DK, 2005, p. 412.

8.  Gamella, J. Spain. In: Heath, D., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. Pp. 254-269. P. 257.

9.  Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006, 66. (Good coverage of wine in the Renaissance.)

10. Dion, p. 61.

11. Oshodin, O. Nigeria. In: Heath. Pp. 213-223. P. 216.

12. James, M. Studies in Medieval Wine Trade. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971, p. 53.

13. Cherrington, E. (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. Westerville, OH: Amer Issue, 1925-1930. Vol. 1, p. 406.

14. Mishkin, D. The American Colonial Wine Industry. Ph.D. Dissertation, U Illinois, 1966.

15. Smith, F.H. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking. Gainesville: U Press of Florida, 2008, p. 16.

16. Huertas Vallejos, L. Historia de la produccion de vinos y piscos en el Peru. Revista Universum, 2004, 9, 44-61.

17. Mishkin, ibid.

18. Esteicher, p. 103.

19. Le Roy Ladurie, E. The Peasants of Languedoc. Trans. J. Day. Urbana: U Illinois Press, 1974, pp. 43 and 102.

20. Veseth, M. The BRICs. Wine Econ., December 17, 2010. Guide to Wine from Argentina. Total Wine & More.

21. del Pozo, J. Historia del Vino Chileno: Desde 1850 Hasta Hoy.  Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1998.

22. Ten Must-Know Facts. [Reverse 22 & 23.]

23. Cardenas, E. Chile. In: Heath. Pp. 31-41. P. 32.

24.  History of Wine in Argentina. TryVino website.

25. Stevenson, p. 521.

26.  The Global Wine Industry.

27. Barber, N., et al. A History of the American Wine Industry. Lubbock, TX: Texas Wine Marketing Research Inst., 2007, p. 12.

28.  Early Wine Production in Bolivia. Bolivian Wines website.

29. Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1985, p. 182.

30.  Wine History. Professional Friends of Wine.

31. Esteicher, p. 70.

32. Idem, pp. 69-71.  

33. Younger, W. Gods, Men, and Wine. London: Michael Joseph, 1966, pp.345-346. Doxat, J. The World of Drinks and Drinking. NY: Drake, 1971, p. 54. Seward, D.. Monks and Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 1979, pp. 139-143.

34. Stevenson, p. 528.

35. Esteicher, p. 8.

36. Huertas Vallejos, ibid.

37. Barber, pp. 13-14.

38. Huertas Vallejos, ibid.

39. Ibid.

40. Zumthor, P. Daily Life in Rembrandt’s Holland. NY: Macmillan, 1962, p.174.

41. Barber, p. 14.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Stevenson, p. 520.

45. Gately, I. Drink. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 137.

45. Stevenson, p. 519.

46. Ibid.

47. Barber, p. 17.  

48.  Wines of Brazil.  

49. Barber, p. 19.

50. Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006, p. 116-117.

51. Ibid.

52  Lundigan, C. ‘To the King o’er the Water’ Scotland and Claret, c. 1660-1763. In: Holt, M., (ed.) Alcohol. Oxford: Berg, 2006. pp. 163-184, p. 164.

53. Stevenson, ibid.

54. Esteicher, p. 67.

55. Idem, p. 82.

56.  Wine History.

57. Charters, S. Wine and Society. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006, p. 288.

58.Cortés Olivares, H.F. 2005. El origen, produccion y comercio del pisco Chileno: 1546-1931, Revista Universum, 2005, 20, 42-81.

59. Ford, G. Wines, Brews, & Spirits. Seattle, WA: Gene Ford, 1996, p. 17.