In Armenia and Georgia man first began to cultivate Vitis vinifera silvestris (European wine grapes). Shortly after its original domestication, Vitis vinifera spread via trade across the Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern regions. These grapes were soon planted in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. Over the next several millennia, the Greeks, the Etruscans in Italy, and later the Roman Empire would spread vines and wine making. The Romans would take wine as far east as China and as far north as England. Early in the Empire, the Romans not only loved it, the people of central and southern Rome revered it with the cult of Bacchus.
The Dark Ages: Leaving Wine in the Dark
After the fall of Constantinople, the Roman Catholic Church sustained winemaking through the Dark Ages. The Church had a vested interest in wine as the Holy Eucharist, or the Blood of Christ used during Holy Communion. The maintenance of vineyards fell to monasteries in the major Catholic countries in Europe. Winemaking died out in North Africa and the Middle East where Islam grew in influence during this period. Although winemakers were losing influence in Africa and the Middle East where they once held strong positions, they were needed in force in the New World. Spain, Portugal, and France sent Catholic colonies to the New World, and needed wine for Communion. While Florida had many native Muscadine and Scuppernong vines, the first successful US vineyard is Brotherhood in New York, established 1839.
Invasion of the New World
The New World has been overwhelming successful in their winemaking venture—almost to the point of actually destroying the Old World’s entire vine stock. In the 1870s a small bug, Phylloxera vastatrix made its way from the Americas to Europe, and quickly tore through much of the French wine vines. Although they sustained less damage, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, and Madeira
also sustained damages to their wine industries.
Because Phylloxera vasatrix and American vines grew side by side for several centuries, the Old World winemakers only had one answer to their predicament: replace their ancient rootstock with newer, Phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. Almost all of the original Old-World rootstock was lost to the infestation, and the Old World wine industry didn’t recover until the 1890s.
Modern Disruptions and Innovations
Since the Phylloxera infestation of the 1870s, there have been a few great upsets in the industry: World Wars I and II wiped out many of the vineyards in Europe, US production of quality wines in California, the advent of Australian and African wines.
One of the most interesting and unfortunate interruptions in the wine world happened in the US from 1919-1933: the Volstead Act, or Prohibition. For the entirety of the 1920s, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol in the United States was illegal and punishable under the IRS and then the Justice Department. Because of this decade-long disruption in growth and production of wine, the US lost much ground in the worldwide wine market.
It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that wine production in the US grew to a worldwide competitive level, with central Ohio arising as the first wine region. California soon overtook Ohio in both production and quality, and by the 1970s California rivaled France with the quality of their bottles. In 1979, the US decided on the standard 750 mL bottle, which was quickly adopted by European countries for ease of trade.
Rest assured, however, these upsets have all served to produce variations in the vine that result in beautiful and interesting wines for us to taste!
Should you have any questions please visit mywineguidemadesimple.com
Cheers - Jerry