From Vine to Divine

Have you ever just sat down with a glass of red wine and thought to yourself just where did the making of wine come from? I mean, most of us probably know the process of winemaking, how we are told that France has a special place for it in its heart and how a glass a day can be good for our health.

What I wanted to know - as I gazed upon a glass filled with a deep-red colour liquid with euphoric properties (after drinking a few glasses), produced by a large quantity of fermented grapes (who decided that drinking the juice from fermented grapes was such a good idea in the first place? That’s mankind for you) - is where did wine originate from? How it was stored? And what impact did it have on religion?

The origin of wine - or what we believe to be the origin of viticulture from clues found from grape domestication in the Caucasus region - can take us back as far as 6,100 BC in Armenia. It was here archaeologists discovered a cave in 2007, known as Areni-1, with evidence of well-preserved fermenting vats, clay vessels to store the wine, withered grape vines and a grape press. This was and still is - until archaeologists make another discovery elsewhere that could be even older - the oldest winery ever discovered!

This idea of producing wine used by the people in Armenia, were adopted in Georgia (6000 BC) and Iran (5000 BC).

Fast forward to 3000 BC, we find evidence that show the Egyptians carried on the tradition of winemaking and established a thriving royal wine industry in the Nile Delta. Though, their idea for transporting wine was different. Instead of small clay vessels, the Egyptians made large storage jars that could hold wine, thus, making the transportation of large quantities of wine easier by boat to trade with countries in the Mediterranean, such as Greece. They were also the first to label their wine with the year that it was made and the winemakers name.

In ancient Greece, Greek wine and the trading of the wine was highly popular; especially with the Roman Empire and right up to the medieval period. They also had different methods on viticulture. For example: vines would stand in rows and be supported on stakes; minimal yields would help with producing more flavours and quality, rather than quantity and vine training was implemented for easy harvesting. Similar also to the Egyptians, the Greeks stored their wine in large storage jars known as an amphora.

The influence of modern winemaking in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain can be traced back to the Roman Empire as they conquered western Europe. Their knowledge of knowing where and how to find the right regions with conditions that were appropriate to lay the foundations of vineyards are still used to this day, e.g. Bordeaux. They also changed how the wine should be transported and stored by using wooden barrels.

As we leap further into the future - around the 17th Century - we see the evolution of storing wine continued as winemakers began using corks and glass bottles that would help for wine to last longer. This technique of storing is still used to this day. From its humble beginnings in Armenia, wine has now touched all four corners of the world, delighting the tastebuds of the hierarchy of the old world and the common-folk of today.

Now that the origin of wine, how it traveled to different countries and how it was stored has been explained, below are just a few examples on how it had an influence on religion across the world.

  • Hathor, the Egyptian god of wine, was worshipped once a month known as the “Day of Intoxication”.
  • In ancient Greece, the Greeks worshipped Dionysus, the god of winemaking and grape harvest. During the Dionysian festivals, wine would be drunk by worshippers to reach levels of ecstasy.
  • In ancient Rome, wine was offered to the Roman god of viticulture and wine, Liber. During funerals, cremations and burials, food and wine would be offered to the dead in honour by family members.
  • The Blood of Christ is symbolised as red wine in Christianity.
  • In Judaism, it is said in Pslams 104:15 that wine “gladdens human hearts” and the consumption of wine during religious duties is regularly practised, e.g. the Sabbath.
  • Tantric Buddhism sees the consumption of red wine as a tool of enlightenment.

So whenever you have to the time to relax with a glass of red wine, why not raise your glass to civilisations before us and thank them for producing, transporting and containing wine over the centuries for us - the people - to enjoy in our daily lives.

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