History’s Cutting; Wine’s Genesis. Part I


The root of the Vine ; The Cultural Origins

For the true origins of wine we can think in two different ways. Hence my decision to split this article into two distinct parts. On the one hand we have the hard, archaeological fact. The remains of the earliest attempts to create an alcoholic grape derived juice. On the other is the origins of the ‘soul’ of wine; the earliest romanticism of the drink, enveloping it layers of mythology which may well still bare the pips of truth.

Through folklore, mythology and even religions, humanity has often grappled with the origins of wine. This had lead to a multitude of episodic tales springing from all kinds of culture. Sometimes these have been taken a little too literally, leading to claims concerning the viticultural genesis which cannot be substantiated in the archaeological record.

One such tale comes from the heart of the Middle East, from ancient Persia or modern day Iran. The tale itself is the product of a complex mythology. It centres on the court of the king Jamshid, the fourth monarch of the legendary Pishdadian Dynasty. Who, according to the Shahnameh, ruled the known world in Persian pre-history. The tale goes that Jamshid banished a women from his Hareem. Overwhelmed with despair at such treatment, she decided on taking her own life by consuming poison.

Fortunately for the history of wine, the poison she consumed was the juice of some grapes which had been left in a jar and had apparently undergone the fermentation process. After having a ‘spirit lifting’ night, the woman passed out. So overwhelmed by the evenings events was she that instead of attempting suicide once more she took the jar to the king. Jamshid was so delighted with this newly discovered drink that he welcomed the amateur chemist back into his Hareem.

English: Hafez looking to Cup of Jamshid Franç...

He then decreed that all grapes grown within his Kingdom should be used to create more of this delightful drop. The story, written down in the first millenia AD, has been used by some to suggest that wine therefore owes it’s earliest inception to Iran. This is highly debatable… but we do know that these early Persian kings were indeed some of the first to grow and trade in what we could recognise as wine.

The Ancient Greeks on the other hand took things a little further. In their terms wine was truly divine. It was the catalyst for poetry, plays and debate, it transcended the ordinary and even inspired religion in the form of the God; Dionysus. The legend of Dionysus (later known as Bacchus to the Romans) tells us much about how the Greeks viewed the vine, as he was the only God to have a mortal mother. In other words, could they be suggesting that the vine, like Dionysus, is a mixture of Divine and human endeavor? Like many other Mediterranean cultures they believed that the vine was grown from the blood of humans who had fought with the Gods.

The Old Testament also had a crack at laying down a history of the vine. Noah, of Noah & the Ark Fame, apparently planted the first vineyard on Mount Aratat (probably modern day Turkey) after the flood’s ravages had relinquished. Noah was, according to the scripture, around 600 years old at this time, and spent the next three hundred and fifty years of his life producing wine for his own consumption. Could this be seen as slip into sinful ways during his extreme old age? Apparently not. At least according to the Hellenistic Jewish Philosopher Philo who states thus one can drink in two different manners: (1) to drink wine in excess, a peculiar sin to the vicious evil man or (2) to partake of wine as the wise man. Despite Satan’s best attempts to ‘intoxicate the vine’ with alcohol forcing Noah to strip off in front of his sons, he remained a man of the latter.