From as early as 6000 BC there has been evidence of wine
being produced in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The remains we have discovered
tell us that in ancient times, wine was made using the same basic winemaking techniques
as today including crushing, fermenting and aging in casks. While the basic
techniques have remained the same, there have been some major events, innovations
and scandals that have help change and shape the wine world as we know it
As early as 1000 BC, the Romans began classifying grape colors and varietals and recording flavor and ripening characteristics of different varietals. They also laid the groundwork for modern viticulture by recording diseases they identified, soil preference of different varietals in addition to developing pruning techniques and irrigation and fertilization systems to increase yields.
The First International Wine Tasting Event
Held in 1224, the first international wine tasting event was hosted by the King of France and established France's place in the wine world by hosting this remarkable event some 7,000 years after the world began making wine. Wine tasting events in modern times are frequently held at festivals, competitions and vineyards and are a way for wine growers, vintners, sommeliers and wine aficionados to calibrate on the characteristics, flavors and quality of wine. Records show that the first wine tasting event helped establish that forum. We can only imagine the effort and co-ordination involved to host an International wine event at that time, as choosing the wines, communication and travel to the event had to be quite the production.
Up until about 1000 BC, wine was stored primarily in skins or clay jars, which were not airtight and led to wines being oxidized quickly. Raiding Germanic tribes brought wooden cooperage to the wine fields of Rome and forever changed the way wine was stored and aged. Wooden casks or barrels protected the wine from oxidization, allowing the wine to age and take on characteristics from the wood.
Romans Plant Vines Throughout Europe
Due to the exploits of the conquering Roman Army, vines were planted all over Europe as early as 200 BC, establishing vineyards and teaching other cultures how to make wine.
The Great French Wine Blight
Phylloxera was the cause of the blight that destroyed nearly 75% of the wine vines in France and nearly destroyed the French wine industry as well. Brought to France on disease-resistant American wine vines, the blight was first recorded in 1863 in the Languedoc. For nearly 2 decades, French wine growers battled the blight, with some growers trying chemicals and others closing up shop and relocating to different countries. Eventually, growers grafted the French vines onto the disease-resistant American rootstock, a decision that spilt the French Wine Industry as people believed it changed the characteristics of the French grapes.
The blight also led to wine grower migrations to other countries, like Argentina, where they could reestablish themselves and produce healthy varietals in positive climates, leading to the modern New World wine revolution that now includes Australia and New Zealand as well.
The Formation of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
In the wake of the devastation of the Great French Wine Blight, France established the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) as way to control and regulate wine growing and wine making practices to help protect wine growers from another devastating disease that could infect the vines and destroy vineyards. Since establishing its wine regulations, the AOC has been the model for other countries and wine growing regions to help protect wine growers and makers.
While modern parties and celebrations would not be complete without the traditional toast of champagne or sparkling wine, bubbles in wine were not always considered a good characteristic. Bubbles are created naturally in wine when the carbon dioxide is not allowed to escape, which often led to wine bottles exploding and a lot of wine being wasted. As sparkling wine came to be appreciated for its lively effervescence, and wine bottle making technology improved; sparkling wine became safe to store and transport.
Glass Wine Bottles
The romans began blowing glass around 1000 BC, but it wasn’t until molded glass technology developed during the 1800’s that wine bottles became the most practical choice for wine storage. Molded glass was strong and safe; the colored glass protected the wine from sunlight and when the bottle was sealed, it prevented oxidation and evaporation, and the glass did not interact with the wine, so the wine could age and mature naturally.
Wine Vines Planted in California
The first California vineyard at Mission San Diego was planted in 1769 by the Father of California Wine, Franciscan Missionary Father Junipero Serra. Before his death in 1784, Father Serra planted 8 more vineyards at Missions throughout California. It is believed he planted a varietal from Mexico which was known as the Mission Grape, which was a popular California wine grape until the 1880’s.
Discovery of Yeast Strains
In 1857,Louis Pasteur, discovered that grape juice is converted into wine by microscopic organisms, yeasts. His discovery led to the development and use of different yeast types to produce different types of wines and also led to improved hygiene, less spoilage, and more efficiency in wine making.
Diethylene Glycol Wine Scandal
In 1985 the Austrian Wine Industry came to a standstill when a German Lab discovered Diethylene Glycol in Austrian Sweet Wine exports. Diethylene Glycol is a toxic substance most commonly used as anti-freeze and can cause severe illness, including death, if ingested. The Diethylene Glycol was said to have been added to wines to make them sweeter and more full-bodied. Over 36 million bottles of wine had to be destroyed due to the environmentally toxic Diethylene Glycol, the wine was used instead of water as a cooling agent at a cement factory. Arrests were made, violators were found guilty and served prison terms, but it took the Austrian wine industry over 10 years to recover from the scandal and resulted with vintners making different styles of wine rather than sweet. While Austria recovered, the stigma of the 1985 Austrian Wine Scandal still haunts the country.
The Judgement of Paris
The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting famously known as the Judgement of Paris, rocked the wine world with the discovery that expert French wine tasters would chose Californian wines over French wines. Organized by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, the wine tasting was a blind taste of French and American Chardonnays and French Bordeaux and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. At that time, French wines were considered the best in the world, however the Judgment of Paris changed that.
A Fake Chateau Lafite Goes to Auction
On December 5th, 1985 a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite sold at a Christies auction in London for $105,000 sterling to Christopher Forbes. The bottle was supposedly from the collection of Thomas Jefferson, but people began questioning the authenticity of the wine when other bottles from the seller, Hardy Rodenstock, were discovered to be fake. The discovery of fake wines drew attention to the rare and historic wines being sold at auction or included in high end wine events. From that time, more extensive verification methods were employed during auctions.
Over the years, the wine industry has changed significantly, but each major change was brought about by smaller events, inventions and contributions that were made over time. Today, although the wine industry still reserves its place as one of the world's strictest industries, changes have allowed for new regulations and methods, including new world wine methods. In future years, it will be exciting to see how the industry changes from the one we know today.