If we asked you to guess where wine originated from, what would you say? Italy? France? The truth is a lot stranger…and older…than you might imagine. Today Louisvale Wines dives into the history of our favourite drink- and how you can keep it evolving for the future, too.
Man’s long history with alcohol
Alcoholic drinks, in general, have been around as long as civilization has. As soon as mankind learned to farm, they began to ferment local fruits and veggies into drinkable products. In many places, this would manifest as a weak, lightly alcoholic beer (amusingly called ‘small beer’ in old English) or, of course, hard spirits like vodka. In the ‘cradle of civilization’, however, ringing the River Euphrates, it would be the earliest wine cultivars we know, launching an industry whose popularity would endure for millennia.
While parts of Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Northern Iran were included in this area at the time, the modern area with the longest ties to its wine-making past would be oft-forgotten Georgia. Here, we have archaeological evidence dating back as far as 6000 BC, including ancient winery sites, grape residue found in storage jars, and signs of the early cultivation of grapes at the border with Eastern Turkey. Most of these remnants point to the stone age Shulaveri-Shomu people, and they’re widely credited as the first vintners in the world. They may have been using obsidian tools, but they could drink something we would recognise as wine! As with the most startling of things today, many of these recovered storage and fermentation jars haven’t changed at all from those still produced in the area. It’s a living- and booming- history you can enjoy too.
An expanding industry, then and now
As the thriving Mediterranean trade industry blossomed under the Phoenicians, grapes and winemaking would spread far and wide. The Romans, in particular, loved their wines far too much to head into the colder areas of their far-flung empire without a few amphorae tucked in the cart! This is why we see so many classic grape cultivars today, as each region developed wine its own way.
Sadly, globalised demand hasn’t been all good. We’ve lost several species of grapes thanks to farmers pulling out older or unique types to plant more lucrative, currently popular vines. This is why there’s been a swing in the industry to address these issues. Can you believe that there are only 50 varieties of grape making up 70% of the world’s vineyards, yet some unique cultivars can be found only in one vineyard? Fortunately, we’re finally starting to understand how special this is.
Ironically, it would again be the winemakers of Georgia- still making wine in the traditional way they have for millennia- that would lead to a resurgence in ‘natural’ wines using fermentation in clay, not oak. Today, you can sample cultivars and wines not unlike those that our ancient ancestors would have enjoyed.
As a wine lover, what can you do to help support a return to a richer and more diverse wine industry? For starters, don’t be shy to try new wines! Supporting local South African wineries like Louisvale also helps us sustain our local industry, and raise the prominence of local wines on the international market, too.
So you can have your wine and drink it, too! When you next raise your glass to enjoy your Louisvale Winery favourite, why not cast a second’s thought to the millennia of innovation and ingenuity that it represents?