Once dubbed, ‘the juice of the gods’ and given its own official deity, wine has been a well-enjoyed beverage for thousands of years. From the range of alcoholic drinks in circulation today, arguably none have impacted society in quite the same way. The history books show that this much-cherished drink has bridged the gap between ancient cultures, opened up channels for philosophical ideas to spread across Europe and even played a key role in the evolution of worship.
And so… in celebration of Wine Day 2022, MacGregor Black explores the rich history of wine. From how it’s produced, to the popular variations we know today, and how they could be changing for modern wine-lovers all over the world.
Where Does Wine Come From?
Unfortunately, no one can be 100% certain about the exact origins of wine. As with any new innovation, as it journeyed across cities, countries and continents, the birthplace slowly became more story than substance. Fast forward to today and there equally as many new theories as old as to where this beloved beverage began its journey.
If we were to turn to Greek mythology, it’s said that Dionysus, the son of Zeus and ‘God of Wine’, invented wine whilst living among ancient mythological creatures called Nymphs. As much as we’d like to close the age-old case of ‘who did it first’, it’s likely that grape culture, or viticulture, outdates Greek civilisation itself.
If we turn to archaeology, recent discoveries suggest that the earliest known ancient wine production evidence dates between 6,000 BC and 4,000 BC during the Neolithic era, with winery sites, grape residue or clay jars being discovered in Georgia, Iran, and Egypt. However, some researchers argue that the earliest evidence of a non-grape-based drink, often compared to wine, was found in ancient China as far back as 7000 BC and was made from fermented rice, honey, and fruit.
Many people believe that wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the west. We use it as a medicine, a means of celebration, a social lubricant, a religious symbol, and last but certainly not least, to unwind after a long day at work. Whilst we can’t say exactly where it originated, we do know that we have sea-fairing civilisations such as the ancient Phoenicians to thank for spreading wine throughout much of the Mediterranean, along with olive oil, the alphabet and glass! The Phoenicians shared their understanding of viticulture and winemaking to several world-renowned wine-producing nations such as, Spain, France, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Portugal to name a few. Not only that, but the Phoenicians also had a direct influence on the expanding winemaking cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which would later spread their understanding of viticulture across the rest of Europe.
Although we can’t say with certainty where wine began, one thing we can be certain of is that we all owe our well-deserved appreciation for wine to one single plant. The grape vine.
As there are many different variations of wine, you’ve probably guessed that there are also many different variations of grape. In fact, there are over 10,000 different species in existence today, with the majority of the world’s wine stemming from just one. Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris. Over the course of its ancient existence, and as early humans spread the desire for high-quality wine to varied climates across the globe, the Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris grape vine mutated and evolved to adapt to small variations in its new home. All culminating in the rich variety of grapes we know today, and hence why we’re lucky to have so many different delicious wines! Unfortunately, in more recent years, such high demand for particular wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, has led to a decrease in the world’s natural grape diversity. As many regions join the race to produce in line with demand, many vineyards have begun digging out their niche, native vines in favour of more mainstream varieties.
How Was Ancient Wine Made?
Whether it be a thousand years ago or this very evening to celebrate US National Wine Day, the process of turning grapes into wine is as impressive as ever. With modern-day technology playing its part in providing us with a smoother and safer drinking experience.
For ancient cultures to produce wine, workers would spend long, exhausting hours harvesting ripened grapes. Followed by pouring them into a large open top vat, with some opting to leave the grapes to dry in the sun beforehand in order to concentrate their flavour. Then comes the part many of us have seen and heard about. They would use their bare feet to repeatedly crush the grapes, producing enough pressure to both release tannins throughout the wine and break the skin encasing the grape. Yet, just enough pressure to preserve the seed inside, as breaking this would leave the wine tasting bitter.
After hitting their step count for the day, the liquid was then left to settle for a period of time while native yeasts converted the sugars in the grapes into alcohol, leading to the fermentation process, with some cultures then adding a variety of spices to sweeten the taste. Over the ages, many civilisations have fine-tuned their methods. The ancient Greeks invented a winepress to crush the grapes, followed by the Romans later using barrels and other techniques that helped them produce greater volumes at a quicker pace and lower cost.
With a limited drinks on the menu at the time, often including fruit juice, goats’ milk, or stagnant water, it should come as no surprise that some ancient cultures even chose to sweeten their foul-tasting water with wine. In fact, wine provided not only flavour but a safer and more sanitary drinking option for many. Although even our ancestors had to learn to pace themselves, with excess consumption leading to… well you know the rest. And so, it was common to also add water to wine thus avoiding over intoxication. So much so, that in some cultures drinking undiluted wine was considered scandalous and some Jewish Rabbis would even refuse to bless ceremonial wine if it hadn’t been first mixed with water.
Wine & Religion
Throughout time, wine has played an integral role in the course of human history as we know it, with religion being no exception. Where some religions, such as Islam, forbid the drinking of alcohol, others like Christianity and Judaism have been known to use wine as a ceremonial symbol. In fact, the Christian church may well be the ones to thank for improving the tase of ancient wine, as it’s recorded that around the sixth century, priests, monks and nuns cultivated vineyards in areas that weren’t as familiar with every-day wine drinking, which largely increased production and ultimately improved wine knowledge.
From the Old World to the New
Following its unrivalled popularity, grape culture and winemaking was quickly transported from the Old World to the New and unsurprisingly many different cultures have since attempted to perfect the process.
Fast forward to today and you’ll be pleased to learn that the wine we drink now differs largely from the wine shared amongst our ancestors. For example, in comparison to today, ancient wines certainly packed a little extra punch. Converting them into today’s metrics, they were likely as high as 15% or even 20% ABV. Hence the rather wise desire to water them down. However, the most notable difference between ancient and modern-day wines are the preservation efforts. The modern bottles we use today help in protecting and preserving the quality of wine for many years to come, whereas many ancient wines we’re quickly spoiled by regular exposure to Oxygen. Thus, forcing Vintners to preserve them with resin, which unfortunately often compromised the wine inside, making it thick and sticky.
Now they say not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of wine, there’s a lot to be said for the bottle labels…
When ancient Egyptians dominated the wine trade, even sending King Tutankhamen to the afterlife with over 26 bottles of the stuff! an issue began to arise around how to determine a bottle of wine’s origin. And so, the wine label was born. Appearing to date back as far as 1550 BC, or maybe even further, seals and etchings were placed on bottles as a way to simplify trade, but also to signify the date, type, and quality of wine.
By the 18th century, the wine trade was booming, and etched labels had become a thing of the past, replaced with bottle labels that were printed on parchment and tied to bottlenecks with string, much like the hanging tags we sometimes still see today. Fast forward to 1798 and thanks to the invention of the lithograph, bottle labels could now be printed in mass. This in turn brought with it new innovations in in design bringing bright colours and an emphasis on artistic design to the forefront. Today, this same practice has reached far and wide from the simple wine bottle, now extending to print media as we know it.
In the 20th century, far from the days of clay jars and oak barrels, an Australian winemaker called Thomas Angove filed a patent in 1965 for what would later be known as bag-in-box-wine. The design was actually based off a very similar product already on the market, which was a bag in a box used by mechanics to transfer battery acid. With Angove’s new design, consumers were required to cut the corner of the bag, pour out the wine and seal it with a special peg. In 2010, the Scandinavian state institutions, Systembolaget and Vinmonopolet analysed the environmental impact of various wines, finding that bag-in-box packaging generated up to 90% less carbon than bottled wine. Not to mention the fact that, since the wine is removed from the flexible bag without adding much air to fill the remining space, it greatly reduces oxidation, ultimately keeping your wine fresh for longer!
It’s clear to see why the method is very much being carried on today by companies like Laylo, manufacturers of Premium boxed Wines.
Co-Founder of Laylo, Laura Riches, commented:
“The reason we chose to box our wine, rather than bottle it, comes down to three factors. One, the wine stays fresher for longer, and as I’m a personal fan of the odd glass of wine whilst cooking, it meant that I could open a box and keep it for up to 6 weeks after. Secondly, sustainability. As you’ve mentioned, boxed wine generates up to 90% less carbon and our product can actually be 100% recycled through our ‘return by post’ scheme. Lastly, here at Laylo we love telling stories and people love to know more about the history of the wine they’re drinking, and since there’s 6 faces on the box, that gives us plenty of freedom to do that.”
We asked Laura, how is it that boxed wine generates less carbon than bottled wine?
“When making wine bottles, there’s actually a huge amount of energy that goes into that process, not to mention the amount of energy it takes to transport wine bottles. If you were to weigh a bottle of wine, the bottle itself actually accounts for a large portion of that quantity and their awkward shape often means they’re packed using lots of plastic to keep them safe during transport. At Laylo, we actually ship our product to the UK in large containers, then package it from there to reduce the amount of transport required, ultimately reducing emissions.”
Whether you’re a history buff, a wine connoisseur, or just brushing up ahead of your next vineyard visit, knowing how various cultures have produced and used wine since it began will without doubt enhance your appreciation for the brilliant beverage. From the first flowering grape vine to the beautiful boxes by Laylo, wine is far more than just fermented grapes, it’s a journey through history that you can savour with every sip.
If you would like to speak with our specialist team of Drinks experts, call us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org