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BLOG #1 The History of Wine and how it all began....

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

There are numerous references to the origins of wine, but all tend to agree that it dates back as far as far back as 7000 BC. Now the claim to fame of who actually was first, differs depending on your sources, some suggest their was winemaking evidence back in China in 7000 BC, others suggest Armenia, Georgia and Iran all have stakes to claim first dibs. What is certainly true and unquestionable, is that humans walking the earth like to drink wine no matter what the era or location !!

If we think about how this actually came to being though, it starts you on the path of thinking about how you make wine...which will be in our next blog on 'Wine 101' but in essence it is where fermented grape juice had their sugars converted by ambient yeast into alcohol and amongst other things flavours. Wow I hear you say, how did people understand that conversion of yeast = alcohol and that it was good and capable of such things back in BC....well I suspect, stab in the dark on my part, that it was more likely people ate overly ripe grapes that had been exposed to sunlight above a very high forest like canopy where the vines had climbed. Stab in the dark as I say, but certainly I suspect the vines of the past were very different to the likes of the cordon or head trained vines that we see today in vineyards.

Evidence today from archaeological discoveries, suggests that winemaking was active throughout a variety of different lands and prove-able to around 5000 BC. If we look at more 'modern' history, the Greeks had Dinoysus as the Greek God of wine and back then, they would have at least a month of festivities based on the celebration of a grape harvest...this dating around 2000-3000 BC (apologies for the lack of exactness, I wasn't invited to the party). Therefore, the likes of the famed areas of Santorini for its Assyrtiko, Nemea for its Agiorgitiko and Naoussa for its Xinomavro wines that we see today are from great heritage. The Naoussa Xinomavro, a particular favourite of mine I might add!

This is also where it gets a bit heated in terms of who came first, because the Ancient Egyptian civilisations are also said to have visiting Phoenicians who bought and sold wine to various areas of society. (Excavations at Tell el-Burak in Lebanon have revealed the first evidence of an ancient Phoenician wine press apparently dating to the 7th century BC as an example).

However, moving forward the Romans, following the Greeks expansion of their empire including to Sicily, saw the production of wine increase and indeed, pre-AD worshipped Bacchus (anyone spot the grape varietal here!) the Roman God of War. Grapevines expanded across Europe as the Roman empire did, Christian monks said to be the instigators of master vintners in Europe and improving wine production techniques as pioneers of the trade. From a variety of sources, it suggests that post the Dark Ages (now jokingly I am going to say, it must have been very dark without wine), plantations began in a flurry across Europe, amongst them - Rielsing in Germany, vineyards of the beloved Burgundy (and then ultimately classified), Champagne moving from what was originally a still red wine (fact), to a sparkling wine etc. The impact of the monks on viticulture cannot be understated by anyone, their understanding of soils, aspects, potentially even latitude was truly pioneering and looking back from today, showcases an extreme intelligence by many.

How does this take us to today?

Well from the Romans to the lack of traction in the Dark Ages to the turn of around the 6th Century, trade links are proven to have been up and running at close to full capacity for this era with well documented importing of wine to the UK from mainland Europe. By the 10th century, and according to the Domesday Book records of 1085-6 vineyards were planted in 42 different locations with 12 attached to monasteries. However, it wasn't until King Henry II became King and improved transport links, did importing of wine in a British demanded style and cheaper pricing led to a build up of imports for wine and a lack of actual winemaking in Britain itself as a result.

In the 15th century, when France still belonged to the British monarchy, Bordeaux became established as one of the most important wine making regions globally (it hasn't changed since then either as still recognised as one of the capitals of wine production and a wonderful visit if you get the chance!). Bordeaux was lost to France in 1453 and so Sherry became the focal point of consumption in Spain (Jerez de la Frontera being the hub today). Supply/demand and wars restricted and increased pricing of the likes of Champagne and through the next few centuries and so Port came to the British market's attention in the 18th century and then 19th century saw Marsala from Sicily.

The British wine market revival

However, it wasn't until the 1950s that the British wine industry started to look at a revival, the German and UK climates often thought of as very similar in climate structure were seeing real wine potential and growth from the likes of Muller-Thurgau and so were introduced into Britain. In 1952 it was said that Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones planted his first commercial vineyard in Hampshire and the second in 1955 by Jack Ward in East Sussex. In the 1960s, new grape varieties were tried and tested and new vineyard sites began to open up further with increased developments into technology, mechanisation and viti and vinicultural practices improved. In the mid 1970s plantings dramatically increased and wine is now today, one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors that you will find in the UK. At last count, there is around 2,500 hectares of vineyards in the UK, which has increased over a whopping 140% in the last 10 years, with around 700 vineyards (of which 3/4 are commercial - and no I haven't visited all of them....yet) and around 160 wineries, producing around 5 million bottles per year.

Today's market

We are now completely spoilt as consumers for choice in wine and the available styles, selections, innovations and improvements in wine technology alongside great artistic license from wine producers. Climate change is clearly fundamental in the way that we view the wine industry moving forward. It has always been synonymous with wine being grown between 30 degrees and 50 degrees latitude North and South of the equator as being the areas where vines flourish, but already we are seeing temperatures change. The Champagne region in France is a classic example where the Southern most part of the region is becoming too warm and some French producers have looked further afield to find new vineyard site locations (I didn't mention the UK south coast).

But most importantly, what this does is make the wine industry and wine consumption in the next few years all the more exciting. The development of new wine varietals, wine composites, wine blends and wine areas that have yet to be fully appreciated or discovered is something that we will endeavour to try and do for all of you in the coming months.

Thanks for reading, there will be many more to come, do take a look at our reviews of wines on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook pages and look out for our website coming soon with lots more fun innovative ways for everyone to enjoy wine. Feel free to debate the above, give me feedback, tell me I am wrong or want to know more.

Until next time, The Devon Wine Guy.

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