May 312013

While contemporary wine making has reached a point whereby processes have been refined to an industrial scale, and set in stone in terms of particular terroirs and fermentation methods, this has not always been the case. Indeed, there have been many poignant moments in the history of wine making, and particularly in its earlier stages. From the high chance that wine was actually discovered by accident, through to the complications of Prohibition in 1920s America, there have been many incidents that have complicated the development of wine making.

Early History of Wine MakingHistorians point to the presence of fossil vines as evidence that wine making was being practiced thousands of years ago, and that it may have developed by accident. Persian legend suggests that a woman tried to commit suicide by ingesting spoiled grapes, only to experience dizziness, and presumably something of a hangover. Although probably a distortion of the actual discovery of wine, it’s likely that early civilisations did stumble across wine as the result of observing natural grape degradation.

The early history of wine making was also defined, however, by some unfortunate mistakes and misconceptions about what should go into the process of making wines. The Romans and other classical civilisations inserted metals, chalks, and silver into wine as part of attempts to preserve it for transportation across long distances. When combined with the use of lead and red dye, wine was likely to cause mild and more serious poisoning over time.

There were some happier accidents, though, in the gradual development of wine making as an art; brandy was discovered when wine makers and merchants discovered that wine shipped over long distances in wooden casks would break down into an alcoholic liquor; this represented part of a distillation process that was unforeseen until wine had to transported from country to country, and saw brandy emerge as a popular complement to wine by the 12th century.

Early History of Wine Making

The Early History Of Wine Making

Other poignant incidents from the history of wine have, however, been less positive. In 1863, a North American vine arrived in England that contained a root louse infection, or phylloxera vastatrix – the infection had begun in the Mississippi River Valley, and by 1865 had spread to Europe’s vineyards, decimating crops and rendering whole areas of the continent unusable for wine makers. It took a long time for the European wine economy to recover, with vines that had already adapted to phylloxera being exported to provide an antidote. It’s difficult to tell, though, whether the new European vineyards were ever the same as those that had been planted and maintained before the outbreak.

More recently, the status of wine in the United States was hit by Congress’s 1917 move to ban alcohol, which became law in 1920. Wine making, along with other forms of alcohol, went underground, and enabled extensive smuggling and bootlegging of different North American and European wines. While Prohibition ultimately only lasted a few years, the new industry that grew out of the ban was stronger than ever, and helped drive North American wine making to new heights by the middle of the 20th century.

About the Author:

Kevin Maddox is a food and wine writer who regularly contributes to a range of food and drink websites and blogs. He thinks online wine merchants have made the process of expanding your palate very easy.

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