Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age

Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age

by Joel Butler, Randall Heskett


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Winner of the Gourmand Wine Books prize for 'Best Drinks Writing Book' in the UK

A fascinating journey through ancient wine country that reveals the drinking habits of early Christians, from Abraham to Jesus.

Wine connoisseur Joel Butler teamed up with biblical historian Randall Heskett for a remarkable adventure that travels the biblical wine trail in order to understand what kinds of wines people were drinking 2,000 to 3,500 years ago. Along the way, they discover the origins of wine, unpack the myth of Shiraz, and learn the secrets of how wine infiltrated the biblical world. This fascinating narrative is full of astounding facts that any wine lover can take to their next tasting, including the myths of the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Jewish wine gods, the emergence of kosher wine, as well as the use of wine in sacrifices and other rites. It will also take a close a look at contemporary modern wines made with ancient techniques, and guide the reader to experience the wines Noah (the first wine maker!) Abraham, Moses and Jesus drank.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780230112438
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/13/2012
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,203,760
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Joel Butler is one of the first two resident Masters of Wine (MW)® in the North America. He holds degrees in history from Stanford University and the University of Colorado, and is currently the president of the Institute of Masters of Wine, North America, Ltd. Butler has been a highly regarded wine judge for decades, most recently as a Senior Judge at the International Wine Challenge, and Decanter World Wine Awards in London. Butler has written on wine for International Wine Cellar, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The I-Wine Review and numerous other wine publications. He is an award-winning home winemaker and wine educator to trade and consumers, and has been a wine buyer for restaurants, retail, and distribution Butler lives in Seattle, Washington, where he is the co-owner of WineKnow LLC.

Dr. Randall Heskett is a biblical scholar with advance degrees in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible from Yale University and the University of Toronto. He has taught at the University of Toronto, Queen's University, and Denver Seminary, among others. His great interest in wine also has led him to work in retail wine stores and as a wine importer. He has written several books and articles, his most recent being Reading the Book of Isaiah: Destruction and Lament in the Holy Cities. Dr. Heskett is President of Boulder University and lives outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

Divine Vintage

Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age

By Randall Heskett, Joel Butler

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2012 Randall Heskett and Joel Butler,
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-04492-1



How Wine Infiltrated the Biblical World

God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth." The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard."

— Genesis 9:17–20


Both wine and the Bible evolved over time. We find our first stories about wine in the book of Genesis — in Hebrew Ber?'šît, which means "in the beginning" — where we also learn about the origins of wine and the power of its intoxicating effects.

Early in the 1800s scholars began to realize that Moses could not have written the whole Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, or Torah); rather, the Torah was written throughout a several-hundred year period. For example, Moses could not have written the account of his death, not to mention various striking anachronisms — such as references to the Canaanites and Perizzites "no longer in the land" (Gen. 12:6; 13:7; see other anachronisms in Gen. 36:31; Gen. 13:18, 14:14; Judg. 1:10, 18:29). Additionally, some parts of Genesis used YHWH for God's name before God had revealed this name to Moses in Exodus, while other parts of Genesis used Elohîm as God's name. These discrepancies reflect various time periods in which the book of Genesis was written and the various stages of development in viticulture.

Biblical texts are literary works of high order. As Sean Freyn, a noted Bible scholar, writes, "The Bible as a whole gives us theologically interpreted history." The Old Testament in particular represents on one level a story line, or "plausible myth," that explained to credulous humans the changes in their lives that resulted from evolution and civilization. Wine cultivation is one of several new adaptations humanity was developing, understanding, and appreciating on many levels.


Early human beings discovered by accident that crushing fermented grapes and drinking the juice not only provided something naturally sweet, but also altered their conception of reality in a mystical way. Curious, humans began to experiment. After thousands of years they domesticated this wild fruit and planted vineyards.

The Bible does not discuss how the inebriating aspect of the grape was first discovered but does tell a postdiluvial story about one of Noah's first experiences with it.


In the Flood narrative, God responds to the wickedness of humankind by sending a flood on all the land but spares Noah and his family, who build an ark in which they float for 40 days and 40 nights. This account originated from two historical sources. Biblical scholars call the one we are concerned with the Yahwist (J); he wrote from the perspective of the monarchy in the ninth century BCE. Only the J source tells how Noah planted a vineyard after he left the ark (Gen. 9:18–28) and after he built an altar to YHWH: "Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard" (Gen. 9:20). In J's telling, YHWH planted a garden and Noah planted a vineyard. The other source says only that Noah left the ark (8:4).

Of all ancient Near Eastern flood stories (for example, Gilgamesh and Atrahasis), J's is the only one that mentions vineyards and wine. Ironically the narrative says merely that Noah was the first person to plant a vineyard. J, who wrote with a distinctive style, never mentions that Noah then made wine, drank it, and became inebriated. Here the word for plant (nata') includes sowing the seeds and the harvest. Hence wine making was considered the end process of planting the vineyards after the harvest.

Perhaps Noah drowned his sorrows with wine because the world he knew had drowned. The passage tells us that "he drank some of the wine, became drunk, and he exposed himself inside his tent" (9:21). The next verse informs us that "Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the genital area of his father" — Noah (9:22). Some scholars think that the word saw is a euphemism for either rape or castration, as the medieval Jewish commentator Rashi suggests: "Some say Cham [Ham] saw his father naked and either sodomized or castrated him. His thought was 'Perhaps my father's drunkenness will lead to intercourse with our mother. ... I will prevent this by taking his manhood from him!' When Noah awoke he said, 'Because you prevented me from having a fourth son, your fourth son, Canaan, shall forever be a slave to his brothers, who showed respect to me!'"

Leviticus 18:6 establishes the general law for such behavior: "None of you shall approach a blood relative to uncover nakedness." The consensus of Bible scholars is that the phrase "uncover nakedness" refers to sexual intercourse. In Genesis 9 Ham is cursed because he "saw the nakedness of his father," implying some sort of sexual violation (Gen. 9:22). However, the narrator makes no moral judgment about Noah's drinking. The narrator casts judgment only on Ham's act of either voyeurism or sexual violation, yet Noah's drunkenness clearly played a role.

Although the historic flood gave rise to stories about other heroes — including Utnapishtim in the Gilgamesh epic — Noah is unique because of his planting of a vineyard and wine making. Whether it was Noah or someone else, the first human to plant grapes began intentional viticulture, one of the earliest human activities that denoted our evolution from members of a hunter-gatherer society to participants in a pastoral, settled civilization.

It is significant that this story about Noah, the first winemaker, directly follows God's covenant with Noah and all of creation (9:8–17): "Be fruitful and multiply." This theme of wine, blessing, and covenant appears repeatedly throughout the Hebrew Bible.

Isn't it curious that one of the very first things Noah does is plant a vineyard after he sacrifices to YHWH? The links between Noah, the Flood, the planting of the first vineyard, and the first human civilizations in the biblical Near East are strong and plausible. Also quite intriguing is that the J source locates the origins of wine near where modern archaeology has found the oldest wineries outside Israel.

Contemporaneously, an intriguing ancient Greek legend addresses the origin of the wine grape: "Typical of the Thracian epiphany is the story of Orestheus and his dog (or should it be bitch?) Sirius, whose name apparently stands for midsummer heat. She gave birth to a piece of living branch — in fact to what gardeners call a 'cutting.' Orestheus ... the son of Deucalion, the Hellenic Noah, buried this piece of wood and from it there grew a grape vine. It may be to the point that Orestheus means 'man of the mountain'; his grandson was named Oineus, the Vine."

In effect, this is the beginning of the Bible wine trail. Noah is presented mythologically or theologically as the primordial winemaker. The next step on our journey is to locate the first vineyards and to determine what the first wines were.


Vitis vinifera L. ssp. sylvestris, the Eurasian wild grape vine, is the first character in our story. This hardy climbing plant evolved over millions of years in temperate upland areas of the Near East, as well as around the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and into southern Europe. The oldest evidence for it comes from the upland areas of eastern Turkey, Armenia, northwestern Iran, and Georgia. In this highland area near the Caucasus and Zagros Mountains, the neolithic peoples who lived there (8500–4000 BCE) would have noted the colorful berries in the fall, gathered them to eat, and enjoyed one of the only sources of natural sweetness available besides honey. As they carried the grapes back to their camps in containers, the berries would rupture. We don't know exactly where or when the first human took a drink of grape juice that had sat around for a few days.


An ancient Persian story credits a woman of the court with the discovery of wine. This princess or member of the king's harem had lost the favor of the king and attempted to poison herself by eating some table grapes that she believed had spoiled in a jar. She became intoxicated and giddy and fell asleep. When she awoke, she no longer was afflicted by the stresses that had made her life intolerable. When she drank some more days-old juice, her conduct changed so remarkably that she regained the king's favor. He shared the woman's discovery with his court and decreed an increase in the production of days-old grapes.

This Persian story shows how fermentation happened inadvertently, with no human knowledge of the process, and alludes to how people first became aware that ingestion of this marvelous fruit could change human behavior and thinking. To early humans this new grape juice was magic, but magic they could create again and again by allowing the grapes to ripen, crushing the fruit, and letting the juice steep. Humans were unfamiliar with the process of fermentation and the grape was magic to them because they did not need to add yeast for fermentation. They did not know that yeast on the grape skins causes the fermentation. Thus grape juice was not only a fine source of energy, but it gave their harsh, difficult, and simple lives a connection to the mystical. Recent archaeological digs in eastern Turkey (Körtik) and northwestern Iran (Hajji Firuz Tepe) have revealed that humans were drinking wine — or a mixture of wine, honey, and fruit juice — at least eight thousand years ago. These areas, particularly in Turkey, are not far from Mount Ararat, where the ark was said to have landed and where mythological-biblical Noah planted his first vineyard. Archaeologists have found pottery shards, grape pips, and other detritus that attest this region is where the Vitis species shows the most genetic variation and therefore where it was likely first domesticated. The first wine cultures emerged in these upland areas around 7000 BCE.

Our neolithic ancestors probably returned every season to gather the wild grapes and once again drink, entering a different reality that was both pleasurable and meaningful. People began to settle in larger groups, that is, settlements. Archaeological evidence suggests that it took a few thousand years to figure out how to cultivate grapes. Because Sylvestris could be propagated only from seeds, as there were male and female plants, it was difficult to grow a consistent and reliable plant. Moreover, the yield of the wild grape vine is smaller than that of a domesticated one, and the vines tend to climb trees, making them difficult to harvest. This didn't stop neolithic societies from trying to grow the fruit for more reliable harvests.

Domestication of wine grapes probably took place at the end of the Neolithic period, around 4000 BCE, as people, through trial and error, noticed that some vines were hermaphroditic — the male and female parts of their flowers were equally well developed — and yielded a more genetically stable plant that produced consistent progeny if propagated.

Seed remains that have been dated to the sixth through the fourth millennia BCE suggest that, as time progressed, humans figured out how to clone hermaphroditic mutations with greater success. They did this because the fruit from wild vines is not as sweet as fruit from domesticated ones. As humans experimented and gained experience, their domesticated grapes became sweeter, good to eat, and even better for wine making.

Over time these early vine growers figured out that by taking a cutting from vines that had sweeter flavors, or larger berries, they could grow a new plant that was more like its parent than one grown from seed. In short, humans were learning to domesticate the Eurasian wine-grape vine at an early stage.


The Noah hypothesis suggests that he (or persons like him) was the first wine-maker, and that this part of the Near East was likely the "original" foundation for the domestication and propagation of Vitis Vinifera. Did he contribute to the dispersion of the domesticated wine grape, Vitis Vinifera L. ssp. vinifera, into more southerly, environmentally friendly areas for the vine? Was this a unique event a one time, one place proposition? That one of Noah's first acts after the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat was to plant vineyards, make wine, and drink it aligns the biblical story with the empirical evidence found throughout the region and thus leads to this conclusion.

After the ark landed on Mount Ararat, YHWH made a promise: "Now when the YHWH smelled the pleasing odor, the YHWH said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest ... shall not cease'" (Genesis 8:21–22).

The Eurasian grape, which we know existed at the end of the Ice Age (roughly twelve thousand years ago), now has nearly ten thousand varieties and produces virtually all of the world's wine. Further, wild grapes have grown in Israel for hundreds of thousands of years, and viticultural remains date back to the Chalcolithic period around 4500 BCE.

The Noah hypothesis offers a tantalizing and plausible explanation of why the wine grape's origins are associated with northeastern Turkey and nearby regions in Iraq, Armenia, and Iran. By planting the vineyard, Noah literally set down roots after the chaos of the Flood.

Growing wine required a fixed location — a settlement at minimum — with people creating a new organization for virtually everything they did, which was quite different from the nomadic society that existed before the Flood. Early societies used the sacred and profane consequences of wine growing to understand their relationships with gods as well as to make humans' living conditions more comfortable and pleasant. Through Noah's initial establishment of a vineyard, he subsequently made wine and fulfilled the mandate from YHWH (implicit in his covenant) to disperse that technology to all humans. The guiding insight is the metaphorical notion of humankind's becoming civilized, with the cultivation of grapes for wine as a principal component of humanity's development of a closer relationship to nature and to YHWH.


In early human societies the vineyard was a status symbol. J was probably writing the Noah story in the ninth or tenth century BCE, during the time of the kings, when Israel was becoming a powerful regional entity and the aristocracy clearly enjoyed the finer things in life. Therefore it seems reasonable to assign wine a privileged place in Noah's story.

Yet the behavior that followed this act of planting was anything but civilized. Noah's drunkenness resulted in Ham's betrayal of his father. The Noah story illustrates that with the advancement of civilization comes great responsibility. That which has the power to advance peoples also has the power to destroy them when treated foolishly. Wine is a gift from God that must be treated prudently and delicately. It stands as a sign for how humanity must reverence the creation.


The drunken monkey hypothesis is based on the observation that when primates eat fermented fruit, they often continue to eat until they are drunk. The hypothesis states that many species, primates especially, are "hard-wired" to enjoy eating fermenting fruit until intoxicated. We posit that the desire to do so regularly was a principal reason for domesticating the grape vine.

Noah's drunkenness after drinking his wine is perhaps an early example of this behavior. His subsequent behavior (with his sons) shows humanity's recognition of the delicate nature of relations between God and humans. By succumbing to the intoxicating and negative side of wine, Noah had broken his covenant with God and had to make amends by encouraging humanity to propagate the vine and respect its power. Over time humans learned to control and domesticate this source of pleasure. Their relationship to the vine became symbiotic; human interaction with the vine helped to produce a more consistent organism that would in turn produce higher quality fruit in line with the new importance wine held in religious and cultural terms.


Noah's experiences with viticulture, enology, and wine drinking find a parallel in the Gilgamesh epic, which dates from the fourth millennium BCE. Gilgamesh, a king who is part god, enters a grove of trees that is described as bearing fruit that looks like the precious stones carnelian and lapis lazuli. Shortly after, on his way to the mouth of the rivers, Gilgamesh meets Siduri, the maker of wine. She owns a tavern and serves him either wine or beer she made from the "Tree of Life" — this is not clear because of a gap in the surviving tablet. Siduri functions as a wise female deity, associated with fermentation and selling this new and exciting grape wine.


Excerpted from Divine Vintage by Randall Heskett, Joel Butler. Copyright © 2012 Randall Heskett and Joel Butler,. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Part 1 In the Beginning Historical Wines, Biblical Beverages

1 The Origins of Wine: How Wine Infiltrated the Biblical World 3

2 From Mesopotamia to Israel: Abraham, Wine, Salt, and Sex 19

3 Joseph and the Cupbearer 35

4 Wine Under Siege: Biblical Wars on Wine 55

5 How the West Was Wined 79

6 The Roman Wine Empire and the New Testament 99

Eight pages of color photographs appear between pages 50 and 51.

Part 2 The Modern Divine Wine

7 Trail 127

8 Lebanon 153

9 Jordan and Notes on Egypt 177

10 Israel 185

11 Greece 209

12 Seriously, What Wine Would Jesus Drink? (Or, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?) 241

Eight pages of color photographs appear between pages 146 and 147.

Notes 251

Bibliography 262

Index 269

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