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Wine: An Age-Old Story

Some of the most essential pleasures or comforts in life can be traced so far back in human history that they seem to disappear in the mists of time. The cultivation and consumption of grapes and their juice is a prime example. Nevertheless, as archaeologists in collaboration with paleobotanists, have further extended and refined their reach, we now know that wine was likely first enjoyed and systematically produced during the Neolithic period, some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. It was during this early era when people in the Near East and in the Greek world first began to leave the nomadic life and settle down that we see the appearance of human cultivated or reared plants and animals.

Grapes and wine ancient greek illustration

Grape vines, now characteristic of Greece and the Mediterranean region, seem originally to have migrated westward from the Middle East. At Fajji Firuz Tape, in Northern Iran, the 1968 discovery of storage jars, embedded in the kitchen floor of a mud-brick dwelling dated to ca. 5,400-5,000 BC, revealed the presence of yellowish and reddish salts from tartaric acid – a substance that naturally occurs most significantly in grapes. Other evidence points to Georgia and Armenia, at the eastern end of the Black Sea as area of earliest grape cultivation. A full-fledged winery, containing a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, cups, and traces of grape seeds and vines was unearthed in 2007 in Areni-1 cave complex in Vayots Dzor, Armenia. In the Mediterranean, wine residues bearing traces of tartaric acid have also been identified on fragments of distinctive, nipple-based storage jars in the Erimi area of southeastern Cyprus and are reported as the earliest examples of Mediterranean wine making, predating 1,500 years wine production evidence in Crete and Northern Greece. An excavation in 1989 in eastern Macedonia, revealed the pips and skins of a carbonized pile of crushed grapes, dated to ca 4,300.

Dionysus and Ariadne with Jags of Wine

The practice of ceremonial and convivial imbibing of wine developed in the Bronze Age Greek world through the fourth, third and second millennia BC, until we find such well-stocked party venues as the Mycenaean-era palace of King Nestor of Pylos, in the southeastern Peloponnese. There, storerooms contained large wine jars. In Crete, the Minoans, who likely influenced the oenological culture of the mainland Mycenaeans, drank wine from horn-shaped rhytons. Clearly, conventions concerning the production and sharing of wine had become highly refined by the Mycenaean Late Bronze Age, during which harvest festivals were established. The Mycenaenas became consummate trader of wine, inserting themselves into an increasingly international Mediterranean market and shipping their goods both eastward, to Cyprus, Egypt and the Levant, and westward to Sicily and southern Italy. Already, wine played a key role in economic, religious, social and even medical aspects of everyday Greek life. Wine represented the first real global, and globalizing, commercial product, which brought together regions, towns, ports and people. Followed closely by olive oil, wine acquired a level of economic demand that fostered long-distance contacts and led to the creation of progressively complex infrastructures and grape/wine related beliefs and traditions.

Source: John Leonard,The Mists of Time, Greece is Wine, 2016 Issue