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The History of Wine

Do you ever wonder who the first person was to discover that rotting grapes could be turned into a delicious beverage? And who was the first one to have a little too much, leading to the first hangover? Come with me on a historical journey.

We know that wine has been around for at least 10,000 years. The oldest known winery was discovered in Armenia, believed to be producing wine around 4100 BC. There they found a wine press, fermentation vats, jars and cups. There’s evidence of people drinking wine as early as 8000 BC in Georgia (not the state), 7000 BC in China, 5000 BC in Iran, and 4500 BC in Greece. It would appear then, that fermenting grapes were common all over the world, unless, of course, those early aliens were spreading it around.

Some might see the irony in the fact that the inebriating effects of drinking wine were perpetuated by the world’s religions. The Greeks worshipped the wine god, Dionysus, the same guy the Romans called Bacchus. He was in charge of the vines, the grape harvest, winemaking, and the resulting wine, in addition to ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theater. Back then the gods had to wear a lot of hats. Ritual wine consumption was practiced in Judaism as well as Christianity. Even Islam, although making and drinking wine was forbidden, used it for medicinal and commercial purposes. I know I have tasted some wine on occasion that might qualify as a religious experience.

Winemaking, and of course, consumption, gained in popularity from the 15th century. Thanks to the Catholic missions, vines brought over by Spanish conquistadors were planted in Mexico. Not to be without the comforts of home, immigrants from all over Europe started bringing their vines with them. Mexico became such a successful wine producer that the King of Spain put a kibosh on the whole thing to eliminate competition.

There is a unique Texas spin on the history of wine and grape growing. With the advent of Steamships, plants and pests were more likely to survive trans-oceanic trips. In 1863, after attempting to plant American grapevines in France, an outbreak of phylloxera came close to devastating many European vineyards. T.V. Munson of Denison Texas discovered that grafting European grapevines to American rootstocks was effective in protecting vineyards from the nasty little insect. This practice continues to this day wherever phylloxera is present.

For a millenia, winemakers had no idea how sugary grape juice was converted to wine. In the mid 19th century, the French government commissioned Louis Pasteur to find out why some wines spoiled. In his research, he uncovered connection of microscopic yeast cells and the process of fermentation. Louis Pasture found that it was the yeast that were consuming grape sugars and converting those to alcohol and CO2. Of course in wine, we vent off the CO2 and you enjoy the alcohol in your glass!

Fast forward to present day winemaking. Every last one of the United States (even Georgia) is growing grapes and producing wine. California is way out ahead of everyone else, with about 90% of American wine coming from the West Coast (along with Oregon and Washington). Texas is definitely an up and comer, with about 400 wineries and counting. The biggest producers are not the biggest consumers, however. California ranks #8 on wine consumption per person. Who’s Numero Uno? Washington DC is far and above everyone else on wine consumption. That explains a lot. While Texas is the #5 producer of wine – we only rank number 43 in terms of wine consumption. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. That’s why Bent Oak Winery has tastings every Friday, Saturday and Sunday!

Post By:   John Catalano