The History of Wine

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The production of French wine has its origins in the 6th century BC, with the colonization of Southern Gaul by Greek settlers. Viticulture soon flourished with the founding of the Greek colony of Marseille. Regions in the south were licensed by the Roman Empire to produce wines. St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was actively engaged in both spreading Christianity and planting vineyards. During the Middle Ages, monks maintained vineyards and, more important, wine making knowledge and skills during that often turbulent period. Monasteries had the resources, security, and motivation to produce a steady supply of wine for both celebrating mass and generating income. During this time the best vineyards were owned by the monasteries and their wine was considered to be superior. Over time the nobility acquired extensive vineyards. However, the French Revolution led to the confiscation of many of the vineyards owned by the Church and others.

Despite some exports from Bordeaux, until about 1850 most wine in France was consumed locally. The spread of railroads and the improvement of roads reduced the cost of transportation and dramatically increased exports.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest wine production came from sites in Georgia and Iran, dating from 6000 to 5000 BC. The archaeological evidence becomes clearer, and points to domestication of grapevine, in Early Bronze Age sites of the Near East, Sumer and Egypt from around the third millennium BC. The very oldest known evidence suggesting wine production in Europe and second oldest in the world comes from archaeological sites in Greece and is dated to 6,500 years ago. The same archaeological sites in Greece also contain remnants of the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes. In fact, Greek sources as well as Pliny the Elder describe how the ancient Greeks used partly dehydrated gypsum before fermentation and some type of lime after fermentation to reduce acidity. The Greek writer Theophrastus is actually the oldest known source to describe this aspect of Greek wine making.

In Egypt, wine became a part of recorded history, playing an important role in ancient ceremonial life. Wine was possibly introduced into Egypt by the Ancient Greeks. Traces of wine were also found in China, dating from the second and first millennium BC

Wine was common in classical Greece and Rome.The Ancient Greeks introduced vines such as Vitis vinifera and made wine in their numerous colonies in Italy,Sicily,southern France,and Spain. Dionysos was the Greek god of wine and revelry, and wine was frequently referred to in the works of Homer and Aesop. The Romans established many of the major wine-producing regions of Western Europe. Wine making technology improved considerably during the time of the Roman Empire. Many grape varieties and cultivation techniques were known, and barrels were developed for storing and shipping wine.

Since Roman times, wine (potentially mixed with herbs and minerals) was assumed to serve medicinal purposes as well. During Roman times it was not uncommon to dissolve pearls in wine for better health. Cleopatra created her own legend by promising Marc Anthony she would "drink the value of a province" in one cup of wine, after which she drank an expensive pearl with a cup of wine. Another medieval application was the use of snake-stones (banded Agate resembling the figural rings on a snake) dissolved in wine against snake bites, which shows an early understanding of the effects of alcohol on the central nervous system in such situations.

In medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was a staunch supporter of wine which was necessary for the celebration of Mass. In places such as Germany, beer was banned and considered pagan and barbaric while wine consumption was viewed as civilized and a sign of conversion. Wine was also forbidden in the Islamic civilization, but after Geber and other Muslim chemists pioneered the distillation of wine, it was used for other purposes, including cosmetic and medical uses. In fact the 10th century Persian philosopher and scientist Al Biruni described recipes where herbs, minerals and even gemstones are mixed with wine for medicinal purposes. Wine was so revered and its effect so feared that elaborate theories were developed which gemstone-cups would best counteract its negative side effects. Strange but true!!

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