Oenologie - L'évolution du vin et de la vigne à travers le temps - Les Grappes

The evolution of wine and the vine through time

But where does wine come from? Its existence seems to merge with that of mankind, it is present in the oldest myths, yet no one seems to really know its history. Let's go today to meet the mysterious drink of Dionysus and discover his epic through time.

The Caucasus, cradle of wine

Archaeological excavations have identified the Caucasus, and more precisely present-day Georgia, as the cradle of the vine and viticulture. Residues found about 50 kilometres from Tbilisi, in jars dating from the Neolithic period (more than 8,000 years ago), have revealed the existence of a large number of vines and vines of the Caucasus.The jars were found to contain traces of tartaric acid, the chemical signature of grapes and wine, as well as three other acids (malic, succinic and citric) related to viticulture.

The first representations of the winemaking process date back to the 3rd millennium BC. They can be found on Egyptian bas-reliefs representing scenes of grape harvesting and pressing. At the time, wine was a product reserved for the sovereigns and their relatives, the pharaohs thus had their own vineyards which they used for cults, rites and their tables. The discovery of the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922 revealed that the monarchs were also buried with amphoras of wine to enable them to continue their tastings beyond death.

The vine then became an essential element of agriculture for the Greeks, they implanted it throughout the Mediterranean basin. For them, the culture of the vine is assimilated to that of civilized men knowing how to exploit the land and cultivate its fruits with the blessing of the gods. The importance given to wine makes it an omnipresent element in their literature and inspires many myths such as that of Dionysus, the god of the vine.

On the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans, an ancient civilization that existed from the 9th to the 1st century B.C., adopted a lifestyle similar to that of their Greek neighbors, borrowing their love of wine and banquets from them. They cultivated their own vineyards and exported their products by boat.

From the 3rd century B.C. onwards, the Romans, heirs of the Greeks and Etruscans, perpetuated the spread of vine cultivation in Europe. They endowed the Tyrrhenian coast with great wine estates and their political and military domination of the Mediterranean enabled them to promote wine exports. Their ships, capable of transporting up to 10,000 25-litre amphoras, criss-cross the various coasts and allow wine to be democratised throughout the world.

Wine in the Middle Ages

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the craze for wine didn't stop, the Church maintained the culture of wine and marketed it. It has considerably increased the wine-growing areas and contributed to the improvement of the latter. Until the 13th century, white wines were almost exclusively consumed, which were cut with water to make them more drinkable. It was also customary to add spices or honey to one's wine. It was only under the pontificate of Clement VI (1342-1352), seduced by a Clos-de-Vougeot, that the taste for red wine appeared in France. It is thus the Pontifical Court of Avignon which would have launched the fashion for red wine, today the most drunk colour in France.

Expansion in the world

Colonization was a key factor in the expansion of the vine in the world. Traces of vines were found in South America in the 16th century and in South Africa in the 17th century.

However, during the 19th century, European vineyards were decimated by phylloxera, a vine aphid. The importation of American plants, naturally more resistant, made it possible to resist the insect but it took Europe more than 30 years to totally overcome the plague.

Nowadays, the majority of vineyards around the world are still made up of grafted plants or planted in sand to avoid the invasion of this aphid.

A 20th century of quality

Advances in research and numerous investments have led to the emergence of a wine science known as oenology. The hierarchy of vineyards was established over the course of the century and has resulted in everything we know today.

The key question now is how will this age-old drink continue to evolve?

Kim Bloch-Lazare (for Les Grappes)

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