The History and Culture of wine

The History and Culture of wine

So who first invented wine?  It is probably more to the point to ask who first discovered wine?  It is not difficult to make it.  On the outside skin of the grape is the yeast and on the inside is the sweet juice:  mix them together, leave it for a few days for the yeast to ferment the sugar and turn it into alcohol, and the result is wine.  All you really need are grapes.  One claimant for first place is Noah.  According to Genesis chapter 9, verses 20-21:  ‘And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:  And he drank of the wine, and was drunken’.  So for Christians and Jews, at least historically, it was Noah.  For the ancient Greeks, the discovery of wine by men was the gift of Dionysos, the god of wine, the avatar who burst out of Thrace – or perhaps Phrygia – and brought the knowledge of wine to Attica.  Certainly, the vine was widely cultivated in Greece and Grecian areas by the early Bronze Age – both Homer and Hesiod make it clear that wine was an essential part of life – and clay tablets dating from the late Bronze Age, about 1200 BC, connect Dionysos with wine.

Noah and his sons winemaking

Another candidate is the legendary, or mythical, Persian King Jamshíd, a great lover of grapes.  One day it was discovered that a jar of them had spoiled, and it was taken to a warehouse and labelled ‘poison’.  Not long after, a very depressed lady of his harem went to find the jar.  According to one source, he had banished her from his kingdom;  according to another, she was plagued with horrendous migraines.  In any case, having lost the will to live, she found the jar and drank deeply, after which she fell into a deep and healing sleep.  She went back to the King and revealed what she had found:  he and his court drank it with pleasure, and she was welcomed back into the harem.  This Persian legend has some plausibility.  By the use of micro-chemical techniques on archaeological residues in some of the earliest wine jars known, which were found at Hajji Firuz Tepe in the northern Zagros Mountains of north-western Iran, it has become clear that wine was being produced in the highlands of Persia in the Neolithic Period from about 5400 BC.

The primary competitor, and probably the winner, is the Transcaucasus.  This could be in what is now Georgia, but was once ancient Armenia, which once included much of eastern Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.  The vine was indigenous to the Armenian valleys, having established itself there over a million years ago, with petrified grape pips found at several Neolithic sites;  there have also been found vessels dating back to 7000 BC, and special pruning knives dating back to between 3000 and 2000 BC.  Georgia was always my favourite as the home of an old and pervasive wine culture, because when Christianity arrived in Georgia in the fourth century, the first cross was made of vines.  But today’s Armenia has recently pulled ahead, in particular if you are of a technological bent.  Recently discovered, in the Areni-1 cave complex near Armenia’s southern border with Iran – and outside a tiny village still known for its wine-making activities – is the world’s oldest known winery.  The site includes grape seeds, withered grape vines, remains of pressed grapes, a rudimentary wine press, a clay vat apparently used for fermentation, wine-soaked pieces of pots and a cup and drinking bowl.  From the grapes to the glass:  what more evidence does one need?


Kathleen Burk

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