Humans have been making wine for over 8000 years. It is believed that the first wines were from the Neolithic period and that the first winemakers were women, as the Neolithic cultures were matriarchal. More recently though (get date), we give credit to the ancient Greeks for dispersing the vine throughout their area of influence. Then, of course, the Romans took the vine with them as they conquered a great empire. It is really to them that we must give credit for being the “godfathers” of wine throughout the Mediterranean and beyond.
Later, Christian monks advanced the art of winemaking. They kept meticulous records of weather and rainfall and experimented with grape varieties until, especially in France, they knew exactly which locations grew the best grapes of specific varieties. These monks essentially created the foundation for the great European winemaking traditions that continue to this day.
More than likely, these wines were very different than today’s wines. Ancient writers such as Pliny the Elder and Hippocras describe wines that were sweetened, diluted with water, and infused with herbs and spices. Concepts of yeast and temperature control were unknown and the storage of wine in wooden barrels exposed the liquid to risk of contamination and oxidation. In fact, fortified wines such as Port and Sherry were responses to this problem, as raising the alcohol level with spirits served to kill bacteria and stabilize the wine for shipment overseas.
Introduction of the glass bottle and cork in the 17th and 18th centuries revolutionized the wine industry. Wine could now be stored and aged without the risk of spoilage. Adding to this, Louis Pasteur began the revolution in wine science, giving winemakers the ability to understand and control the process. Here we see the beginnings of the great modern era in winemaking.
Finally, the advent of refrigeration in the twentieth century gave winemakers the final element of control in creating fine elixirs of the vine. Now they could control the length and temperature of the fermentation, which gave them the ability to create never before seen nuances in wine.
Of course, this is not to say there is no risk. Mother Nature still runs the show and the quality of the prima material, the grape itself, still depends on her whims. But with the advances in winemaking throughout the centuries, we modern wine drinkers enjoy the best of times when it comes to choosing from amongst literally 1000’s of great wines.