How Long Have People Been Making Wine?

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They really knew how to make wine in the old days...

A bit of the history of wine

Ancient wine press

It's too bad that we can't sample some of the better ancient wines.

This section contains some fun facts about wine over the centuries millennia. These tidbits are in more or less chronological order, starting with the oldest, except for the first one, which may seem quite surprising.

The first known reference to a specific wine vintage was by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder who, almost 200 years later, wrote that the 121 B.C. vintage was “of the highest excellence.”

Back around 4000 B. C., the Egyptians started using corks as wine stoppers.

A pottery jar dated between 3500 and 2900 B.C. containing a wine fermentation deposit was found in western Iran.

Another candidate for the first wine country is Georgia, a neighbor of Russia. Thousands of years later, Georgia remains an important winemaking country.

Many feel that Turkey was the first country to produce wine. Not only did uncultivated vines grow there four thousand years ago, archaeologists have found barrels from that era.

The ancient Greeks rejected intoxication. In their eyes, only barbarians drank wine straight. They always diluted wine with more than an equal proportion of water. There is no evidence that they drank spritzers.

The Egyptians were the first to make glass containers around 1500 B. C.

Cyprus’s best known wine is Commandaria, a fortified dessert wine. It is perhaps the oldest continuously produced wine dating back to 1000 B.C.

Grapes have been cultivated in Spain since 400 B. C.

When Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii in volcanic lava in 79 A. D., it entombed more than 200 wine bars, eight on a single street. Mount Vesuvius was well known for its vineyards, before it became unforgettable for blowing its stack.

Closed oak barrels first came into use during the Roman Empire.

The Speyer Museum in central Germany contains the oldest bottle of wine in the world, dating back to about 300 A. D.

Upon his arrival in North America in 1001 A. D., the Norwegian explorer Leif Ericson was so impressed by the abundance of grapevines that he named it Vinland.

In 1564 French Huguenots at Fort Caroline, Florida made the first American wine.

One of the world’s most famous wines is the Hungarian Imperial Tokaji, which is said to age three hundred years, if you don’t give into temptation sooner. The Russian czars loved it so much that they maintained a detachment of Cossacks whose only duty was to escort Tokaji shipments from Hungary to Russia.

Back in the 1600s Hungary’s famous Tokaji region was the first to classify wine based on quality. This region probably produced the world’s first botryris (noble rot) wine in 1647, when they delayed the harvest to prevent the invading Turkish troops from appropriating the juice. It is said, “Twas a brave man that first ate an oyster” and similarly twas a brave person that first harvested botryised grapes.

Many believe that the French monk Dom Perignon invented champagne, but he did not. He was, however, responsible for the wire cage and mushroom shaped cork which reduce the likelihood of exploding bottles. He also was a master in blending grapes.

Wine bottles first carried labels in the early 1700s, but high quality glues didn’t come along until the 1860s.

The Duoro region of Portugal, famous for port, was the first geographically delimited wine region, back in 1756.

The first California grapes were planted at Mission San Diego in 1769.

For most of history, young wine cost more than old wine. In the eighteenth century bottles and corks made storing wine practical.

In 1823 the first commercial US winery was founded in the state of Missouri.

French oak barrels come from trees whose average age is 170 years.

1860 was a big year for wine: the corkscrew was invented and the world’s first wine school was founded in Klosterneuberg, Austria.

Before the Civil War, Ohio was the most important wine producing state in the United States.

The 19th century American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, mentions wine over three hundred times in his writings. Perhaps the most famous example is his Ode to Catawba Wine, praising the American answer to Champagne.

The clay subsoil of the world famous Chateau d’Yquem’s vineyard contains 62 miles (100 kilometers) of terra-cotta pipes, which were laid down at the end of the 19th century to improve water drainage. This is only one reason that their Sauterne is universally considered to be in a class of its own.

In 1945, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild launched a series of distinctive labels, with each vintage sporting the work of a different artist, including Salvador Dali, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and Pablo Picasso. The 1993 label was considered pornographic by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and consequently bottles imported into the US contain a blank space in place of the offending image.

From the sublime to the ridiculous--The bag in box was developed in Australia in 1967 by Thomas Angove.

The first AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the United States was accorded to Augusta, Missouri in 1980. Napa Valley was the second.

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Wine is chock full of interesting and often surprising facts, factoids, and statistics. Some would call it trivia, but this wine information is hardly trivial. Spark up your next wine tasting party with wine information.