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Joy of Home Wine Making
By Terry Garey
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Terry Garey
All right reserved.
A Brief History of Winemaking
Note: If you want to start making wine right away, you can skip on ahead to chapter 2 and read this later. However, I thought it would be nice to know a little of the history you're about to be part of.
Winemaking is an art that is thousands of years old. It isn't clear how many thousands of years, though wine residue has been found in clay jugs that were dug up in the ruins of an old Middle Eastern fort from 1000 B.C. Generally, archaeologists think it dates from over three thousand years before the Romans, probably in what is now Turkey. There is evidence that wine of some sort was being made at that time in China, as well, from plums, apricots, and rice. The poet Li Po had much to say about drinking wine in China, but not, alas, much about methods used to make it.
The skins of wild grapes carry wild yeasts, which were probably responsible for that first bowl or container of grape juice's accidentally fermenting into wine. We'll never know how it first got started. Maybe a woman crushed grapes to feed her baby the juice. Maybe some whole grapes in a tightly woven basket got a bit squashed and developed a winey odor instead of a spoiled smell.
Grapes were an importantfood source in the Mediterranean area. No one wanted to waste food; preservation was vital, even among nomadic people.
It's certain that people quickly noticed that the "funny" grape juice kept longer after fermentation, and that it gave a warm, happy feeling to those who drank it.
It's possible that even before the advent of the clay jar, wine was made by storing grapes or grape juice in sewn animal skins (with the fur on the outside) and hoping for the best. The clay jar had to be an improvement. Probably, at that point, the first wine snob evolved: "Oh, the old wine-in-a-skin? Never touch the stuff."
Wineskins still exist. One can still buy the staple container of yesteryear's free concerts and hiking trips.
The Egyptians made wine as well as beer. The Greeks picked it up from the Egyptians and the Persians. It was made not only from grapes (as the sugar source) but also from dates and honey.
Wine was viewed as both a food and a medicine, and it had great trade value. Imagine the value of a substance that was both food and drink. On top of everything, it stored easily, would keep for a decent amount of time, and was portable. The world's first convenience food?
Many ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean are full of wine jars and the oddly shaped amphorae.
Wine was an important part of many religions, as both a sacrament and a sacrifice. People even paid their taxes with wine. I don't think the IRS would go for that today.
It's thought that wine was drunk young for the most part, usually within the first year. Experts feel that it was probably thin and sweet, turning to vinegar within a few months or a year, depending on how it was stored. Jars were not cheap, nor were they airtight. Bottles had been invented, but they were tiny, valuable objects used to store expensive perfumes and salves. No one would have put wine into a bottle. Too extravagant!
The Greeks preserved some of their wines by adding acids to them, and coating and sealing the jars with pitch, resins, or even plaster. They added seawater and various other flavorings and preservatives. Retsina is probably left over from those days.
The ancient Greeks were responsible for spreading the art of winemaking around the Mediterranean region. They felt that any group of people who couldn't make wine were ignorant barbarians. Beer was a drink fit only for foreigners. Many of the beautifully illustrated vases from that period depict satyrs and even the gods themselves making and drinking wine.
There was a god of wine, whose name was Dionysus. He was not one of the "all-gods," but he was important enough for Euripides, the Greek playwright, to use as a major character in his drama The Bacchae.
The wild cult of Bacchus, worshipers of ecstasy, mysticism, wine, and dance, is looked upon today with amusement. At the time it was a disturbing, disruptive force in the lives of the ancient Greeks.
The Romans picked up wine and winemaking from the Greeks, as they did many other things, such as literature and science. Most wine was drunk diluted with water. The stuff was probably pretty sweet with unfermented sugars. Also, a good Roman was supposed to be a sober Roman, for a drunken Roman made a lousy soldier. They had learned that lesson from the Greeks, as well.
A banquet was not a banquet without wine. Nobles all had country estates and vied with each other to produce the perfect vintage. The sunny Mediterranean climate and gentle hills produced abundant crops and predictable results.
Those Romans got around—conquering, pillaging, spreading their culture, and the vine and wine. The Romans even planted vineyards in Great Britain. Such optimists.
In what is now France, the Celts became famous for their barrel-making, a more durable alternative to the fragile amphorae. Viticulture spread through the area via river traffic.
Gradually, grapevines and winemaking spread throughout Northern Africa and Europe. In the far northern parts of Europe, shaggy barbarians were making mead, or honey wine.
By the Middle Ages, wine was everywhere. Wooden barrels had been perfected, ships became bigger, trade routes were more stable, and populations grew. Wine was plentiful and cheap. There were many regulations about who could grow what kinds of vines, who could make wine and beer, and even who could drink it. Wine and beer were safer to drink than water in most towns. Diluted wine was drunk with meals. People even drank weak beer for breakfast.
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