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Wine… How did it start?

The history of vine and wine is so ancient that it is mixed-up with mankind’s history.

The history of the vineyard is mixed-up with the one of the Mediterranean area. One million years ago, the vines were already growing here and there as wild vines: lambrusques, which really did not look like modern species.

It is generally accepted that winemaking has been existing for several millennia, while wine consumption by Paleolithic man probably came before winemaking. Some archaeological findings of wild grape seeds were found and their estimated age is 11,000 years old, meaning they are very old evidence of winemaking. For the time being, as far we know, one of the first certified wines was discovered in Iran in the north part of the Zagros Mountains.

Based on the most recent archaeological discoveries, some authors like Alexis Lichine pointed the current Armenia as the cradle of “grape”, while Hugh Johnson highlighted the fact that this place was also known as the Mount Ararat, close to the northern border between Turkey and Eastern Armenia. The main point for attention here is the biblical echo of that location because this is exactly where the Holy Scriptures said that Noah planted a vine after the Flood.

Recently, another discovery reported a new date and place for the birth of vine and wine. In 2007, a team of twenty-six archaeologists excavated a site near the Arpa River near the Areni community. They found a skull with a preserved brain inside in a cave that showed some clear evidences of cannibalism on the one hand, but on the other hand, their findings brought the awareness on the winemaking activity because they also found somes vases filled with grape seeds assuming that this place must be a 6000 years old winemaking workshop, probably the oldest one on earth!

In terms winemaking process workflows, the very first one version well documented dated from the Egyptians in the III millennium BCE. Indeed, on some bas- reliefs, it is easy to observe some paintings showing the pressing and harvest wine processes. In addition, in the necropolis of Umm El- Qaab at Abydos some Amphorae filled with some white wine were found at the right location where was buried Sémerkhet 7th pharaoh of the First Dynasty thinite. At that time, the technique used to preserve wine was to mix wine with some resin of thérébinthe to prevent souring effect.

The wine trade has led to the expansion of the vine.

During Antiquity, thanks to trade, wine consumption and then the whole culture of vine were spread throughout the Mediterranean area.

Vine was introduced into Gaul by the Greeks from Phocaea while wine was introduced by merchants from the Etruscan cities in the late VII century BCE. Max Rives, Chargé de Mission at INRA (a French Institute in charge of Agronomic research) checked on site in Marseille to study and report about the first counter built six centuries BCE : “During that excavation of the Marseille Stock Exchange, I saw some “marc” grape seeds that were supposed to be thrown into jars, I saw them floating in the Old Port where these amphorae bins were also used later as material for the street foundations. Obviously, Greeks imported different kind of grape seeds from their homeland, without knowing that vine came on its own several centuries ago.”

By the way, it was during the creation of the city of Marseille around the -600 BCE that the Phoenicians developped vine in Celtic Gaul. From the discovery of the first Hellenistic vineyards in Saint-Jean de Garguier in the Bouches-du-Rhône region, we discovered that the vineyards were confined to some narrow areas near the coast.

Only starting in the Middle Ages, wine is considered “drinkable”.

From the IV century, by taking over a destroyed Roman Empire, Christians played a major role to develop the values attached to wine. As a result, until the XIII century the liturgy of the Communion with the bread and wine as symbols of Christ body were some key driving force to anchor the winemaking tradition among believers but also in the non-believers circles. The Middle Ages truly witnessed the progress of the quality of wine. While the wines of Antiquity were cut with water to dilute the heavy taste and flavoured with herbs and spices, the wine that we drink nowadays appeared in the Middle Ages. The expansion of the Christian civilisation has inevitably boosted the expansion of vineyards in the world.

Throughout the period of the Middle Ages, France was the largest exporter of wine. Paris and the Ile-de-France region were the largest vineyards in France that could supply cities where were the major wine consumers.

Red wine was developed in France and in Europe until the XIV century, before that it is well known that the most popular wines were the white wines and the rosé by far.

Until the XVII century wine was the only beverage that could be stored and well preserved. Later, others beverages would show-up: not only beers from Europe, or imported tea from the distant european colonies, but also coffee and chocolate and of course water that was not as popular as wine at that time.

From this historical perspective our mission is very simple: we aim at reviving the wine culture and the tradition by telling stories from its origins to the present time. A gentle reminder, wine should be enjoyed with caution…

Jean Baptiste Ancelot

Translation by Sanza Bulaya