Wine’s Genesis; The Root of the Vine

One of the many joys of wine is that it is entirely self fulfilling. What do I mean by this? Mead is fermented honey, but no amount of honeycombs will translate itself to the finished product. Grapes on the other hand hold their own potential.

The wild yeasts strains which cling to the skin of a grape can, given time and heat, ferment the liquid within to create a kind of raw wine. It’s no surprise therefore, that some archaeologists believe wine production pre-dates nearly all other forms of agriculture! To the prehistoric mind this must have sun-shines-on-gnarly-vinesseemed like a God-send, if they had formed any notion of religion.

We need to go staggeringly far back to find the first evidence for wine production. Evidence for wild grapes can be found all across the north Levant in modern day Georgia, Armenia, Iran and north Turkey. The wild vine is a native to this region and the climate is ideally suited for its survival. Some archaeologists suggest wine could have been made as far back as 12,000BC, it’s obviously difficult to find supporting evidence for this as however, it’s some 1,000 years before the invention of pottery. Up to this point it has been suggested wine was made in leather bags from wild gathered grapes which leaves very little archaeological impression.

This raw product, this early wine, was a liquid almost waiting for civilization to arrive. It spread out from the Northern Mediterranean around 7,000 BC almost as soon as it was physically possible. Early civilizations in Georgia, Persia, Sicily and Greece traded wine and brought the vine into cultivation, just as the first ever cities and trade routes were being established. Domesticating the vine changed it from a casual pursuit to a fixation, just as our first experiments with husbandry and farming were emerging. This is the absolute zenith of humanity; and there was wine, lubricating the very earliest cogs of human endeavour.

Not only was wine easy to create (but nigh impossible to perfect) it had the added benefit of transcending the ordinary. Here was something beyond a staple, no mere necessity but something to Etruscan-dancers-frescoadd a little colour to life. It is incredibly easy to see why wine become a cultural colossus across numerous borders – with the Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Ancient Greeks and Etrusians all using wine symbolically in numerous ceremonies.

If wine’s journey is incredible then so too are the archaeological processes which have allowed us to draw the map of the vine’s growth through our own roots. Excavations throw up all kinds of human activity which can help us to draw these conclusions. The tiniest pips from waterlogged sites can be analysed, dated and brought in to make theories. It’s also worth remembering that the evidence of a vineyard suggests a settled, agrarian population as the creation and maintenance of vines requires time. Thus, the production of wine gives us an insight into the people who made it.

With the modern day industrialised viticultural methods, it’s a nice footnote to think back to our earliest trials with the vine. Indeed, wild yeast strains are beginning to be find use again to create expressive, even unpredictable wines, as part of the organic movement. What’s more, the vine is being widely reintroduced to its historic home, right across the north west Mediterranean, including Georgia, Armenia (imagine below) and Turkey. It’s always worth bearing in mind we are dealing with an entirely natural product, a product of history and the land, in many ways like ourselves.