The craft of making wine is a thousand-year-old tradition, dating back to the dawn of civilization. According to historians, there are actually two separate occasions of winemaking being developed, completely independent from one another. The oldest archeological evidence that we have is from 9,000 years ago and comes from the Jiahu region in China. Near the banks of the Yellow River local tribes used to mix grapes, rice and honey to make a fermented drink, traces of which still reside on ancient pottery. About 2,000 years later, around 5,000 BC the ancient civilizations of Western Asia, in what is today Israel, Georgia, Armenia and Iran started producing a similar beverage and that technique later evolved in the winemaking process we know today. Over the next couple of millennia, it spread across most of the Middle East, through Assyria, Mesopotamia and all the way to Ancient Egypt. For the Egyptians the process of aging wine was considered a kind of alchemy, a privilege reserved only for the Pharaoh. Due to its deep red color and its resemblance to blood, it was often used in different rituals and ceremonies.
During this time the Egyptians also came in contact with the Phoenicians. Through their trade across the Mediterranean they introduced wine along North Africa, as well as the early Greeks and Romans. For them it became such an important part of everyday life and culture, that they even had a special god – Dionysus, responsible for the grape-harvest and winemaking. The Romans believed that the seasoning was the most important part of the flavor and often added garum, a special kind of fish sauce, garlic and absinthe to the process. They would also boil grape juice in lead pots, until it turned into a sugary syrup, known as lead acetate, which they called “sugar of lead”. It was used to sweeten their wine and according to some historians it may have been one of the factors, which contributed to the empire’s eventual downfall. Through Rome’s trade and conquest wine quickly spread throughout the continent. Among the remains of one Roman tomb, near the German city of Speyer, archeologists even uncovered a still intact glass bottle of wine, estimated to be 1,600 years old. It eventually made its way north to the villages of the Gaul and Vikings. One Viking, Leif Erikson, even sailed to North America, where he made wine from the local berries and founded a settlement called Vinland. Due to its remoteness however, it was eventually abandoned.
Wine was again introduced to America during the 15th century, by way of the Portuguese and Spanish ships traveling to their colonies in Mexico and Brazil. In order to preserve it over the long journeys, they added extra alcohol, a process called fortification. This way the famous wines of Port, Madeira, Marsala and Sherry were created. Around the same time glass bottles were introduced for the first time, but because they were stored upright, the cork stop would often dry up and lose its seal. In France a new technique allowed wine to re-ferment, causing it to have tiny, carbonated bubbles, creating the first sparkling wines and ciders. It took another hundred years, but eventually bottles were redesigned to be laid on their side, allowing for wine to be aged much longer. Still, it wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution, as Louis Pasteur discovered that wine goes bad after contact with air, that glass bottles became standard.
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