Feature: History of Wine

Via Egypt, the Roman Empire and Germania to the ProWein fair in Düsseldorf - the long road of wine From the first wild vines 100,000,000 years ago to the newest trendy varieties; winegrowing has a long tradition. In ancient Egypt, wine was used as a burial gift; in ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire it was known as the ‘drink of the gods’. In the Middle Ages, wine became the popular drink no. 1, and it suffered enormous damage in Europe at the turn of the 20th century as a result of a pest from America. Wine has a both varied and exciting history, and every new vintage adds another chapter, as experts are pleased to note every year at ProWein in Düsseldorf, the industry's leading trade fair.

 

 

Vines are among the oldest plants in the world. Grape seeds found in the late Cretaceous and the early Tertiary periods prove that vines already existed approx. 80,000,000 years ago.  After they had been pushed back to the Mediterranean region by the ice age, i.e. approx. 1 million years ago, vines have again spread northwards for roughly the last 10,000 years and even reached the Rhineland region. Researchers assume that it was approx. at this time that grapes were first pressed by mankind for their juice, and they roughly estimate that the first attempts at winemaking were also made at roughly the same time. This is documented by the finds of 3,000-year-old bronze vessels which still contain liquid wines and the find of an approx. 9,000-year-old clay pot in China which contained the residues of a wine-like fermented beverage made of rice, honey and fruit. 

 

Winegrowing in ancient Egypt
Because of its sweetness, even the oldest Egyptian dynasties were very partial to wine from Thebes. Numerous wall paintings in Egyptian burial chambers document the winegrowing practices of the time. They can be used as illustrations, as they were meant to document the life of the deceased as accurately as possible. The extraordinary significance of wine in society is also reflected by the fact that wine was a popular burial gift for high-ranking personalities and a frequent offering to the Egyptian gods. In addition to many different types of meat, poultry, bread and other foods and beverages, the nobility wanted to be given five different kinds of wine as a burial gift after death. From hieroglyphic texts, we now know that the Egyptians were not only familiar with winegrowing, they also distinguished between eight different wine varieties long before the dynastic period. Researchers even assume that Egypt grew more wine in this period than it does today. Even seemingly modern elements of winegrowing such as irrigation, the designation of different vineyards by specific names and wine labelling have their roots in ancient Egyptian history.

While the normal citizenry could only afford wine for festivities and holidays due to the high wine tax, it was part of the rich people’s everyday life in the Egyptian Empire. This is shown in an image of Princess Kauit. Her tomb shows her holding a cup of wine while performing her morning toilet. 

 

Wine in the Roman Empire and in Italy
The history of Italian wine consumption has its roots in the Roman Empire. In contrast to ancient Greece, wine was accessible to wide classes of population. The questions asked by winegrowers at the time hardly differed from the questions of today: What is the right vine variety, which climatic conditions and which types of soil are particularly favourable, and which is the optimum winemaking method? Over the years, wine production became more and more sophisticated and was increasingly relocated to the proximity of the biggest markets and the ports serving the export demand. Even the Roman legions were supplied with wine, but the top qualities - which were already expensive in Roman times - were reserved to the rich in society.

Together with the Roman Empire, the era of top-quality wines also ended in the 5th century, until Charlemagne conquered big parts of Italy and revitalised the winegrowing culture. In the 14th century, Italy became a wine exporting country, and today it ranks second after France among the largest wine producers worldwide. Germany also imports more wine from Italy than any other country.

 

The ups and downs of wine in Germania
It was again the Romans who brought winegrowing to Germania, as Roman wine monuments on the River Mosel show.  It is convincing that they considered transporting wine across the Alps to be too laborious, and they took along vines instead.

In the 8th century, Charlemagne cultivated winegrowing, winemaking and wine sales so that wine established itself as the popular beverage no.1.  Wine production then peaked in the transition years from the early to the high Middle Ages. Due to the warm medieval climate, winegrowing was even possible in areas bordering on the Baltic Sea.

As a result of improved beer brewing practices, increasing wine imports and last but not least because of the climate change around the year 1500, winegrowing again experienced another strong decline. After the destructions of the Thirty Years War had brought winegrowing in Europe to an almost complete stop, winegrowing flourished again in the 17th century. And wine quality also improved at this time, as the monasteries passed on their centuries of know-how to the winegrowers. This is also the period, when today's labelling and classification system, the so-called ‘Prädikate’ were developed, i.e. “Kabinett” (approx. ‘reserve’), “Spätlese” (‘late harvest’) and “Auslese” (‘select harvest’).

German viticulture than suffered a setback, from which it has not yet fully recovered, namely the introduction of the phylloxera pest in 1850 and of powdery and downy mildew from America. Since this time, the remaining indigenous grape varieties are grafted on resistant American roots. Today, this process is even prescribed by law and has been used to cultivate today's standard grape varieties. 

 

Wine from overseas
Many nations on other continents such as the United States of America, Argentina or Chile can look back on many years of winemaking tradition. In the United States of America, French Huguenots tried to make wine from wild vines in Florida. After their first failed attempts, which were attributable to the strong characteristic taste of the wild grapes, they tried to import vines from Europe. After they discovered more or less by coincidence that hybrid vines were resistant to downy mildew, the way was clear for professional winemaking. Viticulture was given an additional boost by the California gold rush after 1849. After winemaking collapsed almost completely in the Prohibition years between 1920 in 1933, it recovered again after the 1970s. Even then, 85% of all wine consumed in the United States of America was also grown in the US. With the production of approx. 1.7 billion litres, they ranked 7th among the world's wine producers, and the USA are now the fourth largest wine producer worldwide. 

Argentina ranks 5th among the world's largest wine producers. Winegrowing in the country was started by the Spanish conquerors in the middle of the 16th century. As in many other countries, it was primarily the monks who devoted themselves to winegrowing, because they needed altar wine. In the second half of the 19th century, Italian, Spanish and German immigrants brought the a wide variety of vines to Argentina and they also introduced phylloxera, which is so feared by winegrowers. Due to Argentina’s primarily sandy soil, phylloxera only caused minor damage, however.  

Argentina is one of the biggest winegrowing countries worldwide (218,000 hectares of vineyards), and its export business has been very successful in recent years. In addition to its export hit, the Malbec variety, indigenous varieties are getting more and more significant, its most important markets are the USA and Canada.

 

Wine from the German regions
German wines enjoy an excellent international reputation today. Just as the wine itself, the know-how of German vintners is in demand throughout the world. It is also due to this fact that, again and again, new innovations tickle our palates such as the Kerner or the Dornfelder grape varieties, which have only been grown since 1929 and 1955 respectively.

Since 1971, the German Wine Act ensures the minimum standard for wines. It stipulates, for example, that all German quality wines have to undergo an official chemical analysis, and they will be sensorially tested by a Wine-Tasting Commission (Verkostungskommission). 

 

Today, the ProWein trade fair in Düsseldorf is the meeting point and the business platform for international wine and spirits professionals. In addition to the traditional winegrowing nations of the world, newcomers in this sector and vanguard trendsetters also present their products. The upcoming event, which will be organised with a new hall concept and two additional exhibition halls, will again bring together international experts to exchange their know-how and to maintain and extend the commercial relationships to their business partners. ProWein 2013 will be held at the Düsseldorf Exhibition Centre from 24 to 26 March 2013.

 

ProWein is hosted by Messe Düsseldorf and is the lead trade fair for wines and spirits. In March of each year, it is the meeting point and the business platform for the international wine and spirits industry. 4,000 exhibitors from the internationally relevant winegrowing nations present themselves in Düsseldorf to more than 40,000 experts from around the world.

List of References:
• Deutsches Weinbau-Jahrbuch 1978. [German Viticultural Yearbook 1978] Verlag Deutsches Weinbau-Jahrbuch, Waldkirch, 1978.
• Deutsches Weininstitut [German Wine Institute]: 2000 Jahre Weintradition. [2000 Years of Wine Tradition]. Available at: http://www.deutscheweine.de/icc/internet-de/nav/efd/efd701a5-0d4e-0401-be59-267b48205846 [as of 04 June 2012]
• Dünnebein, Anna; Paczensky, Gert: Kulturgeschichte des Essens und Trinkens [Cultural History of Eating and Drinking]. Orbis Verlag, München. 1999.
• Höschgen, Eva: In China war´s schon vor 9000 Jahren feucht-fröhlich [Merrymaking was the Custom already 9.000 Years ago in China]. Available at:  http://www.wissenschaft.de/wissenschaft/news/247209.html [as of 18 June 2012]
• Hugh Johnson: Hugh Johnsons Weingeschichte: Von Dionysos bis Rothschild. [Hugh Johnson's History of Wine: From Dianysos to Rothschild] GRÄFE UND UNZER Verlag, München, 1995. S. 18-22, 35-42, 46-54, 65-70, 96-99, 210-215.
• Mathäß, Jürgen: Innovationskraft, nachhaltige Produktion und Eroberung weiterer Exportmärkte wie China und Russland gehören zu den wichtigsten Merkmalen der Weinerzeuger aus Übersee [Innovative power, sustainable production and the conquest of additional export markets such as China and Russia are among the most important characteristics of winegrowers from abroad]. In: ProWein (Hrsg.): ProWein 2012 – Fachartikelserie, Düsseldorf, 12/2012.
• Ossendorf, Karlheinz: 6000 Jahre Weinbau in Ägypten [6,000 Years of Winegrowing in Egypt], In: Gesellschaft für Geschichte des Weines (Hrsg.): Schriften Zur Weingeschichte. Nr. 55. Wiesbadener Graphische Betriebe, Wiesbaden, 1980.
• Robinson, Jancis: Das Oxford Weinlexikon. USA/Italien/Argentinien [The Oxford Wine Lexicon. USA/Italy/Argentina]. Graefe und Unzer Verlag, München, 2007.
• Statistisches Bundesamt [Federal Statistical Office]: https://www.destatis.de/DE/PresseService/Presse/Pressemitteilungen/2012/03/PD12_113_51.html [as of 20 July 2012]
• Wein.com: Weingeschichte. [The History of Wine]. Available at: http://www.wein.com/wissenswertes/weingeschichte/ [as of 19 July 2012]
• Wein.de: http://www.wein.de/1419.0.html [as of 05 June 2012]

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